OSU freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook, just hours after participating in a tutorial at a player representation firm in Indianapolis, were expected to meet with Matta Monday to discuss their futures.
All three are pondering whether to return for their sophomore season at Ohio State after helping the Buckeyes win a school-record 35 games and advancing all the way to the NCAA championship game or if they want to throw their hat in the ring for the NBA draft.
Any player seeking early entry into the draft must declare himself eligible for it by midnight April 29. They can withdraw their name by June 18 provided they don’t sign with an agent. Oden, Conley and Cook apparently don’t want to wait that long.
“You will know where everybody stands at the end of week, probably even by Wednesday,” Al Powell said Monday. Powell is a confidant of Cook as well as an assistant coach at Cook’s former high school, Dayton Dunbar, and an assistant for the Spiece Indy Heat AAU program that once showcased the three former prep superstars.
“I say that because they realize a decision needs to come soon in fairness to themselves, in fairness to Ohio State, the agents, everybody. Plus, it’s not fair if Thad’s got to fill spots for three scholarship players. He may have to go to the JUCO ranks.
“These kids still want Ohio State to win no matter what happens. Plus, if you want to come out like Greg (might), he’s got to start his workouts (for NBA scouts) soon.”
Oden has been mum on the topic and wouldn’t answer questions about it in Atlanta while the Buckeyes played in the Final Four. His father, Greg Sr., told the Indianapolis Star Friday that the decorated younger Oden had decided to turn pro and that Mike Conley Sr. “is going to manage him.” Greg’s mother, Zoe, told the Star, “Greg told me he wasn’t ready to talk about it yet.”
Over the weekend Conley Sr. refuted that a deal had been struck by any of the three players with him or any other agent.
Oden, of course, is the one in the loftiest situation. The 7-0 center led Ohio State this season in scoring (15.7 points per game), rebounding (9.6), blocked shots (3.3) and field-goal percentage (61.6), but more importantly to professional general managers he proved, despite playing all season with limited use of his right wrist, that he is indeed the dominant figure he was billed to be as a two-time national prep player of the year.
In the NCAA final against Florida, Oden played 38 minutes and ruled the paint with 25 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. He also got every member of UF’s vaunted front line into foul trouble.
Even though he isn’t an absolute shoo-in to be taken with the first pick of the upcoming draft now that national player of the year Kevin Durant of Texas has declared, Oden is all but assured of being at least the second pick behind the talented forward. Last year’s top pick, Andrea Bargnani of the Toronto Raptors, signed a four-year deal worth $7.78 million the first two years. The Raptors have a club option on the final two years. The second overall pick, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trailblazers, made slightly more than $4 million this season. The third pick, Adam Morrison of the Charlotte Bobcats, made about $3.6 million.
If Oden did become the top pick in this year’s draft he would likely sign a multiyear contract worth a minimum of $30 million. It drops off considerably for players near the end of the lottery (top 14 picks) and those tabbed late in the first round, which could be Conley’s prospective range. Cook easily could be taken in the second round, a la former Buckeye Michael Redd in 2000, and teams do not need to guarantee the contracts of those selections.
“Greg is in another stratosphere, and the other kids recognize that,” Powell said. “Let’s face it: It’s a different boat. Greg’s on a yacht. They’re on a 12-foot boat, which is still a nice boat, but it’s not a yacht.
“With Greg’s potential for a 12-year NBA career, the money he could make is astronomical.”
That was outlined Sunday night when the three players, their parents and Powell met in the downtown Indianapolis offices with representatives from the new player representation firm run by Conley Sr. In fact, Conley Sr. began the proceedings by addressing the trio on various topics relevant to NBA life such as franchise expectations, image, marketing, work schedule, rookie schedule and monetary breakdowns.
“That was very eye-opening to them,” Powell said of Oden, Conley and Cook. “They kind of moved around in their chair and perked up on some of those points, like that a million dollars is not really a million dollars (after taxes). You could see they weren’t aware of all that.”
Conley Sr. was not available for comment Monday as he was back in his native Chicago working on the city’s pitch for the 2016 Summer Olympics. He is a former track Olympian and was the head coach of Spiece Indy Heat when the threesome was virtually unscathed at the AAU level.
Attempts to contact Renae Cook – Daequan’s mother, who also attended the proceedings in Indianapolis – and Zoe Oden also were unsuccessful.
Dan Wallenberg of Ohio State communications said he could neither confirm or deny the meeting between Matta and the players and that the university had no plans in place for a press conference or a release regarding their decisions.
During Ohio State’s deep postseason run, Matta showed no outward nervousness about Conley Sr. advising the group and even called him “one of the greatest people I know.” On Monday, OSU assistant coach Dan Peters echoed that sentiment, saying, “I think Mike’s dad has been outstanding through all of this.”
Powell, who has known and coached with Conley Sr. for many years, also was impressed.
“That was the thing – it was not a one-sided thing where Mike Conley Sr. has the upper hand,” he said. “He and the others truly were putting all the information out there and were very thorough about it. I thought they did an outstanding job just informing the kids.
“You could see they had done their homework on all 30 NBA teams. They told (Conley Jr. and Cook), `You could be No. 10, No. 15 or you could be in the second round, so don’t come to conclusions if you see your name somewhere.
“What it comes down to with those kids is they have to ask themselves, ‘Am I happy with where I may go in the draft? Am I truly a lottery pick?’
“I think they’ve given that some good thought and they have an idea now of what they want to do,” Powell continued. “The ball is in Ohio State’s court right now.”
That’s where Matta comes in.
At a team appreciation function Wednesday at the Schottenstein Center, Matta told a crowd of about 4,500 fans, “As I always say in recruiting, all we ever want is what’s best for the young men. We want to help them achieve goals, we want to help them do the best that they can do.
“Like I said, I don’t what the future holds. If it holds what I’d like to see, you’re going to see one hell of a basketball team. And even if it doesn’t, you’re going to see a hell of a basketball team.”
But how much will Matta try to re-recruit the threesome?
“I haven’t even seen Thad since (last) Wednesday, so I don’t know this for sure, but I think he’ll lay it out as he sees it point by point,” Peters said. “I don’t think there’s any rah-rah with this stuff. I’m sure he’ll go into what he’s found out from talking to people at the NBA level.
“And one thing I’ve heard him tell all the kids when he recruited them that I really like is, `My job is to help you get whatever it is that you want.’ They all have to look at it individually and make the best decision for them. He’ll talk about what we need to do to help them develop as a player and to make our team better and he’ll talk about how to approach things if and when they leave here – and that will be different for each person.”
“That’s important,” Powell said of the individual approach. “Just because Greg makes a decision it’s not necessarily one that the other kids should make. To get into that league and then to stay in the league you’ve got to be lucky, you’ve got to stay injury-free and you’ve got to watch who your friends are. It’s not easy.”
After addressing all three players and their families, Conley Sr. confirmed the notion that Oden, Cook and his son need to look at their particular situation by having them meet individually with representatives in his organization in the fields of advertising, promotion, and financial planning.
While Conley and Cook have no assurances, Oden likely would be able to at least equal his contract amount in endorsements, especially considering Durant’s handlers are putting together an endorsement deal currently in the neighborhood of $27 million.
“They know this is a business deal,” Powell said of the three Buckeyes. “It’s only a separation of money and not a separation of friendship. It’s just the economics of it.
“When they left they were all giggling and laughing, and then they all got back in the same car to go back to class.”