Oladipo: “It’s been a whirlwind”

Victor Oladipo strolled into the Assembly Hall press room Saturday morning and found himself taken with nostalgia.

“We’re bringing back the old days right here,” Oladipo said. “This is like the old days.”

Of course, the “old days” Oladipo refers to just ended in March and Indiana hasn’t even had a true preseason practice without him yet let alone a game. But the five months since the IU All-American guard last gave a press conference in that room have represented so much of a life alteration that to him it feels like a previous lifetime.

Oladipo was back in Bloomington, helping host Tom Crean’s basketball camp along with fellow former IU star D.J. White. Since the time he was last in town, he was taken No. 2 in the NBA draft by the Orlando Magic, starred with parts of his new team in NBA Summer League in Orlando and got his first taste of the constant push-and-pull of life in professional basketball.

“It’s kind of been a whirlwind,” Oladipo said. “They kind of tell you before it happens, but when you’re actually in it, you realize they weren’t lying. The draft was an amazing day, it was truly a blessing. But again, it’s just stepping stone. It was great and all knowing I was the No. 2 pick. I’ve accomplished a lot of things, but I feel like there’s so much more I can do. I haven’t even reached the pinnacle of how good I can be.”

Those who follow the league are starting to get an idea of just how much higher that pinnacle is than anyone would’ve expected when he came to Indiana in 2010, rated as the No. 144 player in that recruiting class by Rivals.com. He wasn’t even an All-Big Ten player in 2011-2012, but was a first-team All-American last year and on the short list for every national player of the year honor. After being selected as high as he was, he backed it up by producing one of the best performances in the Orlando summer league, averaging 19.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game, spending time as the point guard for that squad to hone his ball-handling skills and learn how to run an NBA offense. The performance was so strong that Oladipo has some experts, including ESPN’s Chad Ford, considering him the favorite to be this year’s NBA Rookie of the Year.

“It was fun, going in there and playing a new position and for them to give the ball to me and make me go out there and make me run the offense and run the team was quite a new experience,” Oladipo said. “But I liked it. I liked it a lot. I learned a lot of things in summer league. I did a lot of good things and some bad things. It was all a learning process for me, but at the end of the day that’s just a stepping stone too, because summer league is completely different from the real league, from the regular season. Totally different players. Coach Crean even said the other day maybe 15-20 percent of the players I played against in the summer league will actually be in the league. It’s a totally different ball game.”

And when the regular season comes about, Oladipo will likely be reminded of what it was like to play for a 12-20 Indiana team as a freshman. A big part of the reason they had the No. 2 pick in the draft was the number of lottery ping-pong balls that come with having the worst record in the entire NBA at 20-62. They have some useful players in leading scorer Aaron Afflalo, point guard Jameer Nelson and center Nikola Vucevic, and Oladipo should provide a boost, but most predict another painful rebuilding year under second year coach Jacque Vaughn.
Oladipo will at least have experience in that regard to rely upon.

“Here, it was tough,” Oladipo said. “Especially the first year. The rebuilding process has a lot of downs, a lot of down moments. Being everybody’s doormat isn’t fun. They say it’s a rebuilding process in Orlando. If it is, I’m well-prepared for it, because I guarantee it’s nowhere near the rebuilding process we had to do here. We were at the bottom of bottoms. It was ridiculous. I mean, you guys saw it first hand. But we had a lot of good players this year in Orlando. We had a decent amount of vets and a decent amount of young great players. I think we’re gonna do better than people think we’re gonna do, but at the end of the day and play for each other, because we’re trying to get that program back to where it needs to be.”

Oladipo is still getting used to the idea of being a professional — in the NBA it’s a franchise, not a program — but he has a good support group to get his bearings. He said he talks to former teammate Cody Zeller, who went No. 4 overall to the Charlotte Bobcats, every day. There are also former players such as White who may not have played with Oladipo but have stayed close with the program and treated this latest crop of Hoosiers as younger brothers.

“(I told him) be ready for his rookie duties,” said White, who is still working to find a home for this season after he was traded this summer from the Boston Celtics to the Brooklyn Nets along with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry and then released. “That’s the fun part of it, but just know that attention is on you, but Vic’s a smart guy and a great player. He knows that. The main thing is just listen to the veterans and know every night, somebody’s coming at you. Like he says, it’s No Boys Allowed. Everybody from 1 through 15 on the roster, they’re there for a reason. Just bring it every night. Take care of your body. He’ll be fine.”

When Oladipo begins his career, he’ll be able to do it close to his adopted home. His first regular season NBA game comes against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Oct. 29.

“I can only imagine how that’s gonna be when I check into the game,” Oladipo said. “That’s gonna be surreal.”

2 comments

  1. Have our partial season ticket package purchased, my Oladipo jersey, and just ordered my ORLANDIPO tshirt. We are going to a preseason game so we can see Victor in a Magic uniform sooner. Can’t wait for October 20th. Watch on TV, but haven’t been to a Magic game in years!

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