COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Greg Oden, one of the most acclaimed big men to come out of high school in recent years, will make his college debut Saturday for No. 3 Ohio State after a long layoff because of hand surgery.
The 7-foot freshman has not played in a competitive game since an operation in June to repair ligament damage in his shooting hand.
Dan Wallenberg, Ohio State's associate director of sports information, said Oden will not start but will play in the afternoon game against Valparaiso.
Oden was the nation's top recruit and was widely perceived as the No. 1 player in the NBA draft -- if the league hadn't changed its rules to prevent high school graduates from immediately jumping to the pros from high school.
Since undergoing surgery on his right hand, Oden has practiced with the Buckeyes and maintained a conditioning regimen. He had played in practice while wearing a brace on his right hand and wrist. During workouts he shot with his left hand.
Team doctors administered strength tests on the wrist and hand Friday and consulted with Oden's surgeon in his hometown of Indianapolis. The surgeon cleared him to play.
"We'll just see how the game goes and how he's feeling," said Wallenberg, who was watching Oden during a shootaround Saturday morning. "But he will get some minutes today."
Oden teamed with fellow Ohio State recruit Mike Conley Jr. to lead Lawrence North High School to three consecutive Indiana state championships. He averaged 22.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and hit 73 percent of his field-goal attempts last year as a senior.
The third-ranked Buckeyes are off to a 6-1 start -- their only loss a 98-89 defeat at No. 7 North Carolina on Wednesday night. In that game, North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough dominated inside in the second half to lead the Tar Heels.
Oden and Conley are part of the "Thad Five" recruiting class at Ohio State for coach Thad Matta. Conley starts along with 6-6 defensive specialist David Lighty and 6-9 junior-college transfer Othello Hunter, with 6-5 Daequan Cook coming off the bench to average 17.3 points.
Hunter and career backup Matt Terwilliger have been filling in for Oden in the middle for Ohio State.
If Oden continues to progress physically, he most likely will play a major role when the Buckeyes take on defending national champions Florida on Dec. 23 in Gainesville, Fla.
"He seems to be excited about finally getting in a game," Wallenberg said. "It's been seven months since he's played."