Denton: Past Skeptics Fuel Oladipo's Drive for Success
By John Denton
September 16, 2013
ORLANDO – The calculus of it all doesn’t add up when it comes to Orlando Magic rookie Victor Oladipo. But maybe that skewed math lends some explanation to the inner fire that fuels him.
A resounding referendum on Oladipo’s seemingly unlimited promise as a do-everything guard came this past June when he was selected second overall in June’s NBA Draft by the Magic. And following a dazzling professional debut in which he wowed everyone in summer-league action, Oladipo was almost universally selected as the favorite to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award following his first season in Orlando.
But this is where the math gets a little fuzzy. Even with heaps of praise and love gushing his way, Oladipo’s ears still only hear the doubts. Seared into his subconscious are the critiques that he’d never amount to much when he left high school as an overlooked, under-the-radar prospect. He can still close his eyes and feel the sting of criticism when he initially failed to breathe life into Indiana University’s once-struggling basketball program. And to him, the draft-night whispers from a select few who wondered if he might have been picked too high at No. 2 are megaphone volume piercing the eardrums.
Victor Oladipo, this self-made basketball player who has sweated his way to basketball greatness, is driven by the doubters even when it seems he’s finally turned the corner and won over mostly favoritism. Again, it just doesn’t seem to add up. But then again a person as competitive and confident, as driven and determined as Oladipo never quite gets over the sensation of being doubted and expected to fail. Therefore, he’ll always use it to keep the competitive fire burning even as those around him are suddenly now throwing bouquets and compliments at his basketball sneakers.
``Thank you for your opinions and believing that, but at the end of the day only God can control that,’’ Oladipo said last week in reference to several national media outlets picking him as the overwhelming favorite to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award.
Of course, it doesn’t take him long to shrug off the praise, straighten the oversized chip on his shoulder and get his mind back churning toward the work that’s ahead. ``I don’t really pay attention to that (hype) because all of my life I’ve been overlooked,’’ he said defiantly. ``It’s nice for people to say nice things now, but if things go bad they will say bad things. It’s all good to me and I don’t pay attention to all of the other stuff. I’m just looking forward to playing and helping this team win.’’
When he takes the court on Oct. 1 for the Magic’s first official practice of training camp, Oladipo knows that he will be bombarded with a wide mix of emotions. Months ago he made a vow to himself that he will stop from time to time to savor the joys of this first season because he’s worked way too hard, sweated too much and sacrificed so often for this dream to come true.
But whatever success comes his way in the days, weeks and months ahead in his first pro season, Oladipo promises he won’t allow it to dampen the fire inside of him that still burns somewhat out of control. After all, none of this NBA stuff was ever expected to happen for the player who barely averaged 12 points a game in high school, started just five games as a college freshman and was mostly unknown by the basketball world heading into his junior season at Indiana.
In many ways, Oladipo was the anti young star of today who treats college merely as a speed bump on the way to the NBA. ``One-and-done’’ was nowhere in Oladipo’s lexicon, and he knew if he was going to simultaneously accomplish his dream of playing in the NBA and prove the doubters wrong he would have to work for it.
While in college, Oladipo took control of his basketball destiny with a legendary work ethic and a drive unmatched by even those on a loaded Indiana roster. He, in essence, willed himself to greatness by becoming a highly skilled player who squeezed every ounce out of his talent. His will to work and will to win overshadowed his flaws and helped him become the kind of player that the Magic were desperate to draft.
``Back then (early in college), I don’t think anyone would have projected me to be any kind of pick in anything,’’ Oladipo said with a half-hearted chuckle. ``I just continued to work hard and something in me didn’t want to quit. I had endless days in the gym and endless days when my jumper wouldn’t go in.
``Back then, it seemed like no one knew who I was and that there was no chance of me living out my dreams,’’ Oladipo continued. ``But I just kept going. It’s hard to explain, but the human mind is an incredible thing. My goal was to get (to the NBA) and I just had to put my mind to it. I had a blueprint of graduating in three years and getting drafted, and sure enough I did. Well, it was because I put my mind to it. People tell me that I’m living out my fantasies, but when you put your mind to something you can accomplish anything.’’
If hard work took Oladipo’s destiny to the NBA, he feels as though there was a greater power at play in guiding him to Orlando. Cleveland had the NBA Draft’s first pick, and he playfully pointed out last week that he breathed a sigh of relief when the Cavaliers instead opted for power forward Anthony Bennett. There are times, Oladipo admitted, when he will sit alone in his downtown Orlando apartment and think about how fortunate he was to get drafted by the Magic and boomeranged to Orlando.
First, he is surrounding in Orlando by a core of young players in Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Kyle O’Quinn, Andrew Nicholson and Doron Lamb who can relate to what he’s going through while trying to make a name for himself in the NBA. And then there’s the support offered by Magic GM Rob Hennigan, the man who first fell in love with Oladipo more because of his drive than his promising basketball skills.
``If I could pinpoint one thing about Victor it’s his competitive spirit that really kind of emanates from him,’’ Hennigan said. ``If you watch him play, there’s a tenacity and a toughness and a will to try to win. Regardless of what sport you are trying to play, that’s the essence of any sport. He has that will power to try to win.
``So a lot of it with Victor was his intangibles, who he is as a person and how he approaches the game and life with that indefatigable, infectious work ethic,’’ Hennigan continued. ``It has gotten him to where he is today and it will hopefully propel him going forward. He jumps 40-something inches and that’s all good, but it all starts with his heart.’’
Over the past two months, Oladipo has become inseparable with Harris and Harkless. The three usually work out together daily at the Amway Center, dine together, compete in video games and share Instagram shots of one another pranking the others. The bond already formed has helped to ease Oladipo’s transition to the NBA, and has further strengthened his belief that he was destined to play in Orlando.
``It just felt right here and felt like the right place for me,’’ said Oladipo, who regularly has flashbacks of trips to Orlando as a kid while competing in youth basketball tournaments. ``I felt like I could come here and have a great opportunity to help the team win at a high level. Sometimes you’ve just got to go with your gut and what your heart tells you. It just feels like this is the right place for me.’’
Somewhat of an expert now on overcoming the doubters, Oladipo also sees the Magic defying the odds this season and offering up some surprises of their own. He reads the projections of the Magic once again being in a transition phase this season and Oladipo uses the negativity as an additional log on his inner fire. He knows a thing or two about overcoming the odds, and he said his purpose now is to make sure his work ethic and will to win become infectious throughout the Magic’s roster.
``When you are around a group of guys who you plan on going to battle with, who have been there and have done it, it’s hard not to get close to them,’’ Oladipo said. ``Those guys over the past months and weeks have become my brothers. So we’re just looking to going to war together every night. We’re looking forward to playing for each other and winning ball games.
``I’m looking forward to the challenges and I’m looking forward to the season as well,’’ he continued. ``I’m looking forward to shocking everybody a little bit because I think we’re better than everybody thinks we’re going to be. I’m just really looking forward to it all.’’
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