Greg Oden's return brings back memories of former Nuggets guard Todd Lichti

Blazers fans were robbed of seeing Oden battle guys like Andrew Bynum. - Stephen Dunn

Forever to be remembered as the guy picked ahead of Kevin Durant, Oden will make a comeback in the NBA this season.

The 2007 NBA draft was loaded with talent. A few names that went in the draft? Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Mike Conley, Jeff Green, Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah, Spencer Hawes, Nick Young, Marco Belinelli, Jared Dudley, Wilson Chandler, Arron Afflalo, Tiago Splitter, Carl Landry, Glen Davis, and Marc Gasol. It can be easy to forget the No. 1 pick: Greg Oden. He played only 82 games from 2008-2009, spanning two seasons, missing his entire rookie season with injury. And then more injuries.

The last time Oden appeared in a game was on December 5, 2009 against the Houston Rockets. He played just four minutes and 15 seconds in that contest. During the 21 games he appeared in, and started, during 2009, he was averaging 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks. He was starting to look like the guy many thought he would become after leaving Ohio State University.

Unfortunately, the lasting image of Ode is the one from that game where he collapsed on the floor after challenging a shot against Aaron Brooks - you can watch the video here (I can hardly stand to watch it).

Instead, check out what Oden did in his limited time in the league:


His talent was undeniable. Hearing that Oden will give it another go with the Miami Heat leaves me rooting to see him recapture some success on the hardwood.

From Hot Hot Hoops:

"There's a lot to be excited about in joining the NBA champions, getting to play with some great players, and living in Miami. But honestly, the thing I'm most excited about is just being able to play basketball again. It's been a long and challenging road back, so just having the chance to play the game I love again has me more excited than anything else."

The long road to recovery has been a painful one but with the renowned Heat medical staff, Oden will have all the support he needs to bring him along at the right pace.

"The past six years have been tough for me," Oden said, "but there's nothing I can do about it now. The past is the past. All I'm focused on is right now. And right now I feel great and I'm looking forward to playing again."

Most of us can recall the injury history of Kenyon Martin and Nene with the Nuggets. But if we go back to the 1989 NBA draft there was a player the Nuggets drafted with the 15th overall pick that had major promise. Some names taken in the '89 draft ahead of Nuggets pick Todd Lichti: No. 1 Pervis Ellison, Danny Ferry, Sean Elliott, Glen Rice Sr., Stacey King, George McCloud, Tom Hammonds, Nick Anderson, Mookie Blaylock, and Tim Hardaway Sr. A couple names taken after Lichti? No. 17 Shawn Kemp and No. 26 Vlade Divac.

Lichti, 6'4" and 205 pounds, was a star coming out of Stanford that fell in the draft. His last two seasons at Standford he averaged 20.1 points per game, both times. He shot 51% and 43% from three-point land his last two seasons and 54% from the floor in each season. He was even impressive as a freshman, averaging 17.2 ppg. He was a stud.

And then (from SFgame.com in 2002) ...

Lichti had a promising rookie season with Denver in 1989-90, averaging 8 points off the bench. Then he broke out for 22 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in Game 1 of a first-round playoff series against San Antonio.

Soon thereafter, Lichti's life forever changed on a desolate stretch of Interstate 80 near Lovelock, Nevada. He and his girlfriend, Kirstin Gravrock, were driving from Denver to the Bay Area, where Lichti planned to introduce her to his parents. (He attended Mt. Diablo High School in Concord.)

On the morning of May 17, 1990, with Lichti asleep in the passenger seat of his Nissan Pathfinder, Gravrock apparently fell asleep at the wheel. The car rolled over; she died instantly. Lichti sustained a broken right foot and multiple lacerations.

More than 12 years later, Lichti acknowledges that the accident diminished his thirst for upward mobility.

"That may have had an impact on me going to Europe (in 1994) and moving on, " he said. "All of a sudden the NBA didn't seem maybe as important as it was when I was striving to get there."

Lichti did come back after the horrific car accident and appeared in 29 games for the Nuggets during the 1990-91 season. He averaged 14 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 29 minutes per game. But injuries further derailed the aggressive player's career after his foot injury from the accident:

He ... tore knee ligaments, sliced tendons in his wrist, tore knee ligaments again . . . and eventually vanished to play in Italy and Australia, quietly and without further calamity.

Lichti was traded by the Nuggets on Aug. 19, 1993 along with Anthony Cook and a 1994 second-round pick to the Orlando Magic for Brian Williams (Bison Dele). His career with the Nuggets was more about the flashes he showed than the promise he had coming out of Stanford.

Sometimes injuries just happen. The tragedy Lichti faced after losing his girlfriend, Kirstin Gravrock were much bigger than the game. The fact that he came back and played after that is a success story. The rest of his injuries were just a cruel way the game treats some players.

I'll be rooting for Oden to succeed in Miami. Even though expectations won't be big, the fact that he'll be back on the floor, like Lichti, will form a success story.


Nate_Timmons on Twitter
ntimmons73@yahoo.com

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