Denton: Oladipo and Burke Share Close Bond

By John Denton
Dec. 18, 2013

ORLANDO – Far away from the white-hot intensity of the Big 10 rivalry between Indiana University and Michigan, Victor Oladipo and Trey Burke are actually close friends. As well they should be considering how their paths to the NBA are so very similar.

Their mutual respect and friendship didn’t always fit the narrative last year because of the bad blood between the Hoosiers and Wolverines as both programs were competing for supremacy in the Big 10. Also, there seemed to be the foundation in place for a rivalry considering that Burke edged Oladipo for both the Wooden National Player of the Year and the Big 10 Player of the Year awards.

But the more that Oladipo and Burke were around each other following last season leading up to the NBA Draft, the more they realized they were the same in a lot of ways. Both were lightly recruited high school players who didn’t blossom into college standouts until they had put in hundreds of hours of work on the basketball court.

Those strong work ethics led Oladipo and Burke to the NBA where they were both first-round draft choices last June – Oladipo went No. 2 to the Orlando Magic, while Burke was picked No. 9 by Minnesota and traded to the Utah Jazz.

Oladipo and Burke played against one another four times in college over the last two seasons and tonight they will face off for the first time as NBA players. Oladipo’s Magic are beginning a six-game home stand at the Amway Center against Burke’s Jazz.

``He does a lot of things very well and he can get a bucket anytime that he wants,’’ Oladipo said of Burke. ``He has a solid outside shot. He can get in the lane very well and he’s good at creating for others. We have to do a good job of containing him.’’

Oladipo has played in every game for the Magic (8-17), and qualifies as the top rookie scorer in the NBA at 13.8 points per game. Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams has played in only 15 games because of injuries, but is averaging 17.7 points per game. Burke also doesn’t qualify for the rookie leaders because he’s also played just 15 games, but he’s averaging a solid 12.4 points per game.

Oladipo wasn’t heavily recruited coming out of suburban Washington, D.C., and was a late signee by Indiana in 2010. Similarly, Burke wasn’t sought after by Ohio State even though he hails from Columbus, Ohio, and ended up at rival Michigan. Oladipo had to work to become a better scorer, while Burke had to put to rest doubts about his sleight 6-foot, 190-pound frame.

``He’s a really good player, exciting player and really athletic,’’ Burke said of Oladipo. ``He’s a great defender and is a guy who is like me who wasn’t highly recruited and has had to prove himself. I’ll always have respect for guys like Vic. It should be fun playing against him.

``Me and Vic have got a really good relationship off the court,’’ Burke added. ``We had the opportunity to be around each other at The Wooden awards out in Los Angeles. That was great. He’s a hard worker and I had the opportunity to play against him the last two years. They made it a rivalry, but now that we’re playing against each other again it should be fun. Two rookies going at it, it will be exciting and I’m looking forward to it.’’

After leading Michigan to a National Runner-Up finish, Burke’s first professional workout leading up to the draft was in Orlando for the Magic. While in Orlando, he stayed just down the street from the Amway Center at the Grand Bohemian, and seeing that hotel with the Jazz brought back memories for him. Burke said he remembered having ``a pretty good workout’’ and getting to meet Magic chairman Dan DeVos.

Those memories are much better than the ones from his second trip to Central Florida for the Orlando Pro Summer League. Throughout the expo for rookies and unsigned free agents, Burke looked overwhelmed and unsure of himself. In his first four games of the summer league, Burke shot a dismal 24 percent from the floor and just 5.2 percent from 3-point range. He admitted that it was equally a humbling and motivating experience for him.

``Obviously I didn’t play the way that I wanted to play. It was about two or three months ago, so the memories are still new,’’ Burke said. ``As a rookie you always want to come in and play well, especially in summer league when that’s like your first evaluation from everybody. Obviously I didn’t play the way that I wanted to play or the way that I know that I can play. But it definitely motivated me to want to be ready when the preseason came.’’

Like Oladipo, Burke is reverential when speaking of the veteran players on his team. He said listening and learning from the older players has helped him ease the transition from college basketball to the NBA.

``Coming in this league as a rookie, you have to earn not only (opposing players’) respect, but your teammates’ respect. I think I did a good job of letting my vets teach me and listening,’’ he said. ``You don’t know everything when you first come into this league. You have to find out through experience or find out through guys who have experience. I’m doing a really good job of trying to listen to my vets and apply all of the information that they have given me.’’

When the Magic played in Chicago’s United Center on Monday night, Oladipo was reminded of how much his life has changed in the past nine months. Last March, he was at the United Center playing in the Big 10 Tournament and on Monday he was on an NBA floor helping the Magic defeat the Bulls.

``I’ve come a long way, man,’’ Oladipo said while shaking his head. ``I say it all of the time – if someone would have told me a few years ago that I would have been here I would have told them they were a liar. But hard work really does pay off. I just have to keep working hard no matter how good that I get.’’