Denton: Oladipo Remains Spirited Despite Team's Losing Streak

By John Denton
Jan. 12, 2014

DALLAS – With the Orlando Magic in the throes of a disconcerting seven-game losing streak and their hopes of the postseason slowly dying, one would think rookie Victor Oladipo would be broken and dispirited.

But he’s been here on the wrong end of an ugly record before. And he knows that, in time, things will get dramatically better for both himself and the Magic.

Four years ago, Oladipo was recruited to Indiana University to turn around a hallowed Hoosiers program that had hit rock bottom. That transformation by no means happened overnight, not even with the dazzling Oladipo showing flashes of greatness as a raw freshman in the 2010-11 season. That year, Oladipo and Indiana suffered through a dismal 12-20 season that included a 19-point defeat to Kentucky, six losses in the first seven Big 10 games, nine defeats to close the season and even an embarrassing stumble against Northern Iowa.

In many ways, Oladipo said his rookie season with the Magic feels the much the same as his freshman season at Indiana.

``The first year at Indiana we were getting blown out by 20 and 30 on the road and losing at home by 20 and 30. So I’m used to it, but I don’t really like losing,’’ Oladipo said following Orlando’s 120-94 loss in Denver on Saturday night.

``You can never accept losing,’’ Oladipo continued. ``I want the best for this franchise and the best for this team and that’s winning. To do that, you’ve got to get better. We’ve got to keep playing hard and never quit. If we have a never-quit attitude and work hard it will pay off in the long run.’’

Oladipo also knows that from experience because he helped Indiana get to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament and break a 10-year drought during his sophomore year. And as a junior, he crafted an All-American season, again led Indiana on a deep tournament run and ultimately emerged as a top NBA prospect.

Oladipo is hoping in time to pull off a similar feat with a Magic team that has hit hard times of late because of devastating injuries. At one point in Saturday’s loss in Denver, Orlando was without its leading scorer (Arron Afflalo), leading rebounder (Nikola Vucevic) and its leading assists man (Jameer Nelson) because of injuries.

The Magic (10-27) hope to at least get Nelson (sprained index finger) and possibly even Afflalo (strained foot) back when they face the Mavericks (22-16) in Dallas on Monday night. It is the last stop in a five-game road trip that has seen the Magic go winless so far.

The road trip has also been a killer for the Magic for how it’s gutted the team of much of its firepower. Vucevic crashed to the floor head-first on Monday in Los Angeles and suffered a concussion. Orlando is 0-9 this season without Vucevic and also winless in the three games that he’s left with injuries.

Afflalo twisted his ankle and foot Friday in Sacramento and showed up at the Pepsi Center Saturday in Denver wearing a walking boot. Afflalo said the pain and swelling were minimal and that there’s an outside shot he could play on Monday.

Nelson had the index finger on his right hand accidently bent backward on Saturday night. He was in such pain that X-rays were performed on the finger and ultimately proven to be negative. Nelson said he initially feared that he had done major damage to his finger.

``I thought I did (hurt it), but I guess the X-rays came back negative,’’ said Nelson, who had 10 points and seven assists before leaving with the injury. ``Thank God that it was nothing too serious. But it was enough pain and it was on my shooting hand and I couldn’t really move it at all.’’

Despite the Magic’s struggles of late, Oladipo had had several impressive moments on this trip to give Orlando hope for the future.

In Los Angeles, he scored most of his 22 points in the second half as Orlando shaved 19 points off a large deficit. In Portland, Oladipo made ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays by swatting a Damian Lillard dunk attempt back to the 3-point line.

And on Saturday in Dallas, Oladipo responded after turning the ball over and getting dunked on by Kenneth Faried by going right back at the Denver power forward and converting a nifty three-point play on the other end.

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said members of his coaching staff and players on the team marvel at the plucky and positive nature of Oladipo. Even when the rookie makes a mistake, he usually has the wherewithal to respond with an even better play to make up for the earlier gaffe.

``Victor is a guy who his teammates enjoy playing with,’’ Vaughn said. ``His teammates see that he’s ready to play and he enjoys playing the game of basketball. He watches games outside of when he’s playing and he understands who else is in the league. He enjoys the game of basketball and that’s important.’’

Oladipo, who is averaging 13.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists a game, certainly doesn’t enjoy all of the losing that the Magic are going through now. But he’s wise enough to know that the hard times won’t last long if he and Orlando’s other young players continue to improve. And he also has his collegiate experiences at Indiana to fall back on and know that better days lie ahead for the Magic.

``There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and even though it seems like things keep getting worse and worse, we’ve just got to keep playing,’’ Oladipo said. ``From personal experience I know that you’ve got to keep working on your game, keep working hard and getting better. When you do that you tend to get better.’’