Denton: High Praise for Oladipo

By John Denton
June 28, 2013

ORLANDO – Victor Oladipo’s game went from extremely raw to being good enough to be the No. 2 pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft, a metamorphosis made possible only by a work ethic that became legendary at Indiana University.

He was such a regular around his college workout facility that he usually had to swipe his entry card six or seven times to gain access. He would show up for extra work before practice and stay after – even if the Hoosiers had a weight-lifting session or film study. And because Oladipo was so committed to improving his jump shot and ball handling he insisted that trainers bring along cones used in drills for road games.

Indiana coach Tom Crean said he’d never seen an athlete put himself through what Oladipo did to improve his game. Crean said on Friday that Oladipo’s rise, one that allowed him to become the No. 2 pick by the Orlando Magic in Thursday’s NBA Draft, was entirely due to his commitment to work hard and better himself as a basketball player.

``It was just with nonstop work, whether it was early in the morning or it was late,’’ Crean said in a conference call on Friday after two of his players – Oladipo to Orlando and Cody Zeller to Charlotte – were chosen in the top five of the NBA Draft. ``We’d shoot a lot in practice. But it was always a lot of extra work with him. It didn’t matter how long we went in practice and what we did after in a sense of film or weights, but he would always come back out to do more.

``It was nothing for him to watch an Eastern Conference (NBA) game or a Western Conference game and be jacked up and come in here and shoot for another hour,’’ Crean continued. ``He’s just one of those guys who loves to play, loves to work and get better.’’

Oladipo, 21, will meet the Magic’s front office and the media later today upon arriving in Orlando. The mature and charismatic shooting guard impressed the Magic during interview sessions in Chicago and Orlando before the draft, and backed it up with his talent on the court. That led the rebuilding Magic to put their faith in Oladipo, whom they drafted ahead of Kentucky center Nerlens Noel and Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore with the second overall pick.

Oladipo’s combination of work ethic, steady improvement and defensive grit convinced Magic GM Rob Hennigan that Oladipo was the right choice. The Magic scouted Oladipo a half-dozen times in person this season and also sat in on several practices at Indiana University. What they saw in Oladipo was a player who never backed down from challenges.

``He has just a tireless work ethic at that (defensive) end of the floor,’’ Hennigan said Thursday night. ``We really saw Victor as someone who took pride in defense and took pride in defending the best player on the opposing team. Any time you have someone who wants to play defense and gets excited about defense that excites us. That was one of the reasons we liked him as much as we do.’’

Like Wade, Oladipo was somewhat below the radar coming out of high school and had to make himself into the player he is today. In 36 games this past season the 6-foot-3, 213-pound wingman averaged 13.6 points and 6.3 rebounds while dramatically bettering his outside shot. He made just 30 3-pointers all season, but his 44.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc was dramatically better than the 30.8 percent and 20.8 percent that he shot as a freshman and sophomore. He also led the Big Ten in field goal percentage at 59.9 percent.

Crean said the improvement of Olidipo’s jump shot didn’t come by happenstance. He put in the hours of work and practice to will himself into becoming a much better shooter from the outside. Crean said it wasn’t uncommon for Oladipo to get in extra work before and after practices and then return for another late-night shooting session in an empty gym.

``In the three years that he was here, especially during the season, there might have been two days that he took off – and one of them I told him not to come in,’’ Crean remembered. ``Not just after a game, before a game, a day off or before a practice – every day he came to work. It started when he first got to Indiana until the last day Victor was here until he headed back to D.C. two days after graduation.

``He is an extremely gifted athlete. He has charisma, strength of will and personality, but when he gets in the gym it’s all business,’’ Crean continued. ``That’s what propelled him to so many things. … He just has a force of purpose right now that is incredible. It’s just going to continue because that’s who he is.’’

Oladipo is known most for his defensive skills and accordingly he was named college basketball’s Defensive Player of the Year this past season. He has both the quickness to check guards and the strength to guard small forwards. And his basketball smarts are complemented by a 6-foot, 9-inch wingspan and an 8-foot, 5-inch standing reach. Oladipo also led the Big Ten in steals at 2.2 swipes a game.

Crean said that Oladipo’s long arms and toughness help him make up for only being 6-foot-3 ¼-inches and allows him to still thrive against larger players. Crean said he’s only had two players ever average more than 12 pass or dribble deflections a game – Dwyane Wade at Marquette and Oladipo at Indiana.

``He plays with great length and he has excellent tenacity. He has tremendous eye-hand coordination and a toughness,’’ Crean said. ``Victor can guard anybody. It was nothing for us to put Victor on a five-man to slow him up. Victor is a player. It came up with some other teams that didn’t even draft him – how would he do in a three-guard offense? How would he do guarding small forwards? You never know who’s ready to guard LeBron (James) and Carmelo (Anthony) and some of the guys like that, but you do know if a guy is willing to fight, get after them and compete with those guys. Victor is a pure competitor. When you compete you are going to do what it takes to be in the game.’’

Crean said that it’s no surprise that front-office staff and coaches in Orlando quickly fell in love with Olidipo because of his maturity and willingness to work hard. He predicted that Magic fans will quickly develop the same kind of love affair with Oladipo because of his infectious personality and his willingness to do the little things to help a team win. Crean predicted that Oladipo is on a collision course with stardom.

``One of the things he’s very good with from the beginning is eye contact. … Victor looks you in the eye and he’s respectful,’’ Crean said. ``He spent a lot of his life around older people. This is a guy who drove an hour-and-a-half to (high school) school. He’s a wisdom guy and loves to learn. And he has a humbleness. I said last night, `How do you feel?’ And he said, `It’s humbling.’ He means that.

``This was never supposed to happen to him and what he’s done is work himself with a sheer force of purpose,’’ the coach continued. ``He became a leader because of his energy and his will and grit. He’s never gotten away from who he is, and that’s going to be a key that he never changes. No matter how famous he gets or how many commercials he does, he understands the charisma that he has and that energy is real.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.





Follow John Denton on Twitter here