Big fun with ‘Big O’ - Ostertag ponders return to NBA

By Gary Bedore,, Thursday, June 21, 2007

Greg Ostertag flipped in a one-handed, behind-the-back three-point shot while warming up for the Bill Self campers game Wednesday at Horejsi Center. “I was just jacking around,” the 34-year-old former Kansas University/NBA center said.

He was more serious during a 45-minute scrimmage involving KU’s current players, as well as former Jayhawk Michael Lee. The 7-foot-2, 290-pound Ostertag hauled down nine rebounds and scored four points off 1-of-6 shooting in a 75-70 loss. “I was tired, but it was a lot of fun. It’s always fun coming back here,” said Ostertag, a Duncanville, Texas, native, who played at KU from 1991 to ’95 and followed that with 11 NBA seasons prior to his retirement following the 2005-06 campaign.

The oft-zany Ostertag transformed himself into a team leader Wednesday. With the score 63-58 following some sloppy turnovers, he called all participants to center court. There, Ostertag delivered a no-nonsense message about playing harder and finishing the first-team-to-score-75 game off right. “The play was getting a little sloppy. Everybody was getting a little tired, throwing balls all over the place,” said Ostertag. “I said, ‘Just try to settle down and not make the exceptional pass, make the good pass for guys with wide-open jumpers.’ I think right there at the end we played a little better.”

Ostertag — he signed autographs for fans and even presented the size 18 Nikes off his feet to a pair of lucky spectators after the scrimmage — hopes to return to the camp game next summer as an active NBA player. No fooling. The “Big O” is seriously pondering an NBA comeback. “First I have to try to get my fat butt in shape,” Ostertag cracked.

But seriously, folks ... “I am still young enough to play,” he said. “Last year was the first time in 24 years I haven’t played. It was fun, but I think I can still do it. I might give it a shot this year. I’ll tell my agent to put my name out there and see what happens.”

Ostertag said “yes” forcibly when asked if he missed the NBA. “A lot is because I can still do it. I am not going to go out there and play 40 minutes or probably even 20 minutes,” he said. “If I can give 15 minutes here and there, get a couple of rebounds, a couple of blocks for somebody, I’ll do that. “Like I said, I missed it, especially playoff time. Those are the times you enjoy the most. The atmosphere is a lot better. It’s a lot more physical. They let you play and so forth. It’s what makes the game fun.”

Ostertag, who had career averages of 5.5 rebounds and 4.6 points per game, said he has started a workout program. He has been playing pick-up basketball with the Jayhawks since Sunday, when he brought his son, Cody, to town for camp. “I’ve got some weight to lose. Then I may have to go in and work out for somebody (NBA team). I don’t know how it works. I’ve never been in this situation before,” he said.

KU senior power forward Darnell Jackson, who scored 22 points, including six off a pair of three-pointers, said he was impressed with Ostertag. “I thought Sasha (Kaun, 17 points, nine rebounds) takes up a lot of space — Greg Ostertag takes up A LOT of space,” Jackson exclaimed. “The only thing I could do was try to use my quickness or shoot the ball real high over his length.” The 6-8, 250-pound Jackson, who had one vicious dunk after a strong move down the lane, blocked one of Ostertag’s shots. “It felt good because I said, ‘I’m going to get you,’ and he was like, ‘No, you’re not,’’’ Jackson said. “And when he came around and tried to shoot a little baby hook, I got real lucky and timed it great and got a little block.”