Denton: Oladipo Has Overcome Doubters Since Young Age

By John Denton
Feb. 22, 2014

TORONTO – To fully understand Victor Oladipo’s unquenchable thirst for improvement and his raging desire to prove others wrong you must go all the way back to when he was an impressionable 5 years old.

Or, for that matter, when he was a skinny 9-year-old with shaky basketball skills.

As he was growing up in suburban Washington, D.C., Oladipo signed up for his first basketball league at the age of 5. As he remembers it, he initially hoped to play for the ``purple’’ team – not because it was the defending champion and the one stacked with the most talent – but because his best friend from Pre-K class played on the team.

``The coach of that team told my mom that the roster was full and that I wasn’t good enough to play on the team,’’ Oladipo said, sounding like the wound was still fresh. ``I mean, I’m 5 years old, and this guy is telling me I’m not good enough.’’ Instead, Oladipo said he hooked on with ``the-not-so-good, light blue team.’’ He ultimately led that squad to the championship for the first trophy of his basketball life.

Later, as a 14-year-old ninth-grader, Oladipo’s high school coach put serious limitations on him – insulting limitations, really – while on the floor. Just recalling the harsh words from that coach makes Oladipo chuckle now at the irony of how his basketball life has evolved.

``My high school coach, during my freshman and sophomore years, he would tell me, `Just rebound and don’t dribble! And kick (the ball) to the point guard,’’’ Oladipo recalled. ``And now they are trying to tell me to play the point at the highest level. So you just have to believe in yourself and have faith because what God has in store for you, nobody can stop that.’’

Oladipo was able to overcome all of those doubts early in life because of his tireless work ethic and his willingness to stay hungry and humble. Those are traits that he has carried over to his rookie season with the Orlando Magic, and ones that have allowed him to celebrate several mini-milestones along the way.

Oladipo was downright electrifying on Friday in Orlando’s thrilling 129-121 double-overtime defeat of the New York Knicks. He nearly notched his second triple-double of the season with 30 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds. He became just the fourth rookie during the last 20 years to have at least 30 points and 14 assists in a game. Even more impressively, he shredded the Knicks with 25 points and 10 assists after halftime when the game mattered most.

The cat-quick, 6-foot-4 guard was able to eclipse the 20-point plateau for a ninth time this season while also recording a career-best in assists because he has worked hard to better himself as a point guard. He is a frequent guest into head coach Jacque Vaughn’s office so the two can pour over game footage. And over time, Oladipo has learned that it’s often better to change speeds and add variety to his game instead of going full-blast every second on the court.

And here’s the truly encouraging part for the Magic organization: Oladipo feels he still has gobs of improvement to make and he’s driven to reach his maximum potential.

``I’ve come a long way and I’ve gotten better,’’ said Oladipo, whose Magic (17-40) face the Raptors (30-25) Sunday night in Toronto. ``I still have so much room for improvement. I really feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I can do. I honestly believe that.’’

The Magic will be without Arron Afflalo after he sprained his right ankle in Friday’s win. That means Oladipo will have even more of the ball-handling, scoring and defensive workload in his shoulders in games coming up against Toronto (Sunday), Washington (Tuesday) and Philadelphia (Wednesday).

According to Stats, Inc., Toronto has the second-highest scoring backcourt duo in the NBA at 39 points per game with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Washington (with John Wall and Bradley Beal) is fourth at 36.9 points per game.

Vaughn is confident that Oladipo will continue to strive for improvement because he’s seen him attack his work days in practice and display a steely toughness in games. Vaughn is of the belief that the doubts that Oladipo endured early in life and before he went to college at Indiana University have affected his hunger for more improvement.

``He’s earned everything he’s received,’’ Vaughn said. ``Whether people are doubting him, whether it’s where he’s come from, how he got to Indiana or how he got to here (to the NBA), he’s earned it. That’s the mentality that he has to continue to use to keep driving him. That’s why he’s able to overcome certain situations in the course of the game. He’s had people doubt him and not pull for him, and he’s managed to overcome it.’’

Even in the glow of Friday’s defeat of the Knicks, Oladipo was mildly upset with himself for missing a layup at the end of the first overtime and vowing he would have a dramatically better left-handed shot this time next season. His mission is to continue to work to better himself in every way possible.

``Imagine when I get myself toned; I wonder what my motor will be like then,’’ Oladipo said with a chuckle, referring to his plans for a summer workout schedule. ``I want to be the greatest to ever play. That may sound simple, but that’s what I want. I want to be the greatest to ever play this game.’’