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Published: Saturday, 6/30/2007

Oden likes Portland and feeling is mutual

ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Portland Trail Blazers' top draft pick, Ohio State center Greg Oden, speaks to the fans after being introduced during a rally a day after the NBA basketball draft, at Pioneer Courthouse Square on Friday, June 29, 2007, in Portland, Ore. The Portland Trail Blazers' top draft pick, Ohio State center Greg Oden, speaks to the fans after being introduced during a rally a day after the NBA basketball draft, at Pioneer Courthouse Square on Friday, June 29, 2007, in Portland, Ore.
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PORTLAND, Ore. - Brand-new Trail Blazers center Greg Oden quickly got a feel for life in Portland - it rained.

The 7-foot center out of Ohio State, wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with his last name, was introduced yesterday to Blazers fans at a lunchtime rally, some 16 hours after the team took him with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

"I'm loving it here, and I'm going to have a smile on my face for a long time to come," said Oden, who was Indiana's Mr. Basketball in 2006 after winning three straight Class 4A championships at Lawrence North.

Later in the day, Oden was at the Blazers practice facility south of Portland where he received his official No. 52 jersey.

"It looks good, I like it," Oden said.

Blazers coach Nate McMillan said he had his sights set on Oden since watching Ohio State play Florida in the NCAA championship game. Although he praised Kevin Durant for his talent, McMillan was sure Oden was the right choice.

Durant, a forward out of Texas, went to the Seattle SuperSonics with the second pick.

"When I was going to sleep at night and thinking about next season, the guy who kept popping into my head was Greg," McMillan said.

A few thousand fans chanted Oden's name when he arrived at downtown's Pioneer Courthouse Square on the city's light-rail system.

Oden acknowledged the cheers by bowing to the crowd.

"This is crazier than New York," said Oden, accompanied to Portland by his parents, brother and girlfriend.

After taking Oden with the top pick, the Blazers made headlines on draft night by sending Zach Randolph, Fred Jones and Dan Dickau to the New York Knicks for Channing Frye and Steve Francis.

General manager Kevin Pritchard envisioned developing a Blazers front court with Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Frye.

"Rip City is back," said Pritchard, referring to the nickname coined when the Blazers won the NBA championship in 1977

"It's going to be a great ride," Pritchard said at the rally.

The infusion of young talent has Portland fans excited. Even before the Blazers selected Oden, the team had sold more than 3,500 season tickets. Some 6,000 fans went to the Rose Garden on draft night and rushed the court in celebration when Oden's name was announced.

Nicknamed the Jail Blazers years ago because of player misconduct, the team began a transformation last year when the Blazers got Aldridge, Brandon Roy and Sergio Rodriguez on a busy draft day.

Roy went on to be the NBA's rookie of the year. Might Oden be next?

"As we got to know Greg, his family, and what he was all about, we got more comfortable and more comfortable," Pritchard said.

Humble with a sharp wit, Oden appeared comfortable, joking that the draft and the whirlwind trip to Portland was just as he had always imagined it would be.

When asked about who in the NBA he would like to dunk on, he replied: "Everybody."

After the meeting with reporters, Pritchard patted Oden on the arm and mouthed the words: "You did good."



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