Denton: Oladipo Thankful to Have Landed in Orlando

Victor Oladipo

By John Denton
April 2, 2014

ORLANDO – More than a few times this season rookie guard Victor Oladipo has wondered how his life would have been different had he been the first overall pick of last June’s NBA Draft as opposed to No. 2 by the Orlando Magic.

Then, Oladipo is thankful that he ended up right where he wanted to be all along in Orlando.

Cleveland shocked the basketball world last June when it selected UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett with the first selection in the draft. The Magic were overjoyed with that selection because it meant that they were in position to nab Oladipo with the second pick. Magic Senior Vice President Pat Williams, who has been on the NBA Lottery podium three times when Orlando nabbed the No. 1 pick, jokes that he should get credit for a fourth No. 1 because Orlando almost certainly would have taken Oladipo with the top pick had they been in that spot.

``Extremely excited that the guy we wanted was on the board and there was no indecision,’’ recalled Magic coach Jacque Vaughn of the Magic’s reaction on draft night. ``(GM) Rob (Hennigan) had led the team to being in position to pick the right guy. They had done their work and their work was pretty good.’’

The two rookies have squared off three times this season, but Bennett won’t be available tonight when the Magic (21-52) host the Cavaliers (30-45) at the Amway Center. Bennett is away from the team because of a medical matter in his family.

For Orlando, it will be the final game of a four-game home stand that has seen it beat Portland and Charlotte before losing to Toronto on Sunday. Cleveland is three games back of the eighth and final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.

Bennett, a 6-foot-9, 259-pound forward, has not only struggled to get on the court, but he’s slogged along when he has gotten playing time. It took him 44 games before he broke double figures in scoring and he has yet to score 20 points as a professional. He’s missed the last 11 games because of an injury and a family illness, and for the season he’s just 13th on the team in scoring (4.1 points). He’s also averaging just 2.9 rebounds and his shooting 35.2 percent from the floor and 24.5 percent from 3-point range in 51 games.

Oladipo is one of the NBA’s top rookies and he’s twice won the league’s Rookie of the Month award. He’s bounced back and forth between starting and being a reserve and playing shooting guard and point guard and he’s averaged 14 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists a game. He’s scored 30-or-more points twice and had 11 20-point games. And on Jan. 15, he became the first Magic rookie with at least 35 points and at least eight assists in the same game.

Oladipo said that while he thinks often about what would have happened had he been selected by Cleveland, he couldn’t be happier about landing in Orlando with the Magic. Oladipo remembered having a variety of emotions on draft night last June.

``First off, I was happy for (Bennett) because that’s a great accomplishment for someone to say that they were picked No. 1,’’ Oladipo said. ``At the same time, I was just wondering where I was going. Then, I ended up going here, so I didn’t have to wait too long. It was a pretty amazing feeling.’’

Oladipo said he had no indication from his agent, Hennigan or Vaughn that he was the Magic’s choice as the No. 2 pick leading up the draft.

``Didn’t anybody tell me anything,’’ Oladipo said with a smile. ``Everything was a surprise. Luckily I ended up here and I’m happy to be here. I’m just going to continue to get better.’’

Oladipo said that he is oblivious to the outside pressure of being a high draft pick because he puts a tremendous amount of pressure on himself to succeed.

``I have higher expectations of myself than anybody does,’’ Oladipo said. ``When you start thinking about (outside pressures) that’s when you play bad. I feel like the expectations of myself exceed what anybody else might have. I’m just going to keep improving and playing hard and everything will take care of itself.’’