Victor Oladipo Continues to Remain Positive, Believes In This Team

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By John Denton

March 10, 2016

LOS ANGELES – In times like these, when the Orlando Magic are struggling yet again late in the season, Victor Oladipo has to remind himself of the hard times that he’s gone through in his career before.

All throughout his basketball life, Oladipo has had to overcome adversity and doubts to get to where he is now. At times, it was a struggle to make a name for himself and lead his teams to success in high school and college. Frustratingly so, it’s been the same in the NBA for Oladipo, who is in his third season with the Magic.

Oladipo and the Magic won just 23 and 25 games in his first two NBA seasons. A recent three-game losing streak has this season shaping up as another disappointing one with Orlando sitting at 27-36 heading into Friday’s road game in Sacramento against the Kings (25-38).

To his credit, Oladipo has remained positive, stressing that he feels the Magic are close to turning the corner and being in contention for the playoffs. Oladipo said his basketball history helps to keep his confidence strong and his chin up in hard times.

``It’s pretty tough, but I truly believe that everything is a process,’’ Oladipo said on Thursday following the Magic’s practice in suburban Los Angeles. ``Yeah, I’ve won at those places (in high school, college and AAU), but I’ve also lost in those places, too. Getting to those wins in AAU, high school and my college career, they didn’t come overnight and it was a process. So I’m going to continue to keep getting better, believing in myself and learning every day so I can start winning at this level as well.’’

The way Magic coach Scott Skiles sees it, Orlando needs to put together a serious charge to get back into the crowded playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. And that mission might not include standout center Nikola Vucevic, who has already been ruled out of Friday’s game because of a groin strain. Also, point guard Elfrid Payton missed Thursday’s practice because of a bruised forearm/elbow sprain and could be out of action. Skiles said he and his staff are still contemplating possible changes to the lineup that could spark the Magic and help cover the loss of Vucevic’s team-best 17.8 points and 9.0 rebounds a game.

One thing that could work in the Magic’s favor is that Kings’ talented-but-troubled center DeMarcus Cousins will miss Friday’s game after being suspended by the team for conduct detrimental to the team. Video footage shows Cousins screaming and gesturing at Sacramento head coach George Karl in a timeout huddle during Wednesday’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Regardless of whether the Magic’s lineup is changed or stays the same, Skiles said there is likely little room for error the rest of the way if Orlando – who woke up Thursday morning 5 ½ games back of the No. 8 seed – are to make a push at a playoff slot.

``Realistically, we’ve got to go 15-4. And that might not be good enough, but that’s what we have to do,’’ Skiles said. ``We’ll see (if they can do it) and we’ll talk to them about it.’’

Oladipo’s scoring average for the season (15 ppg.) is off from last season’s career-best total (17.9 ppg.), but that’s more a product of Skiles’ system where there is more ball and player movement and less isolation plays. The shooting guard’s numbers have been impressive since the break for the NBA All-Star Game (18.2 ppg., 6.1 rpg., 3.6 apg., 1.8 spg.), but it hasn’t translated to much team success (4-7).

After spending tireless hours in the gym over the summer, Oladipo hoped to make a jump as a shooter, but it hasn’t translated. He started the season slowly with his shot, had a hot streak in January and has dipped again lately with his efficiency. For the season, Oladipo is shooting 42 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from the 3-point line – numbers that are consistent with his career averages.

The son of Nigerian immigrants who worked tirelessly to provide for their family to have a life in the United States, Oladipo believes he can work his into improving his game. He said that LaRon Profit, one of Orlando’s assistant coaches for player development, also has been big in keeping his spirits up even as the Magic have struggled to find consistency again this season.

``First and foremost, I believe in God’s plan for me and God’s plan for this team,’’ Oladipo said. ``I have LaRon Profit, who definitely helps me a lot because he’s been through the league and he gives me the motivation that I need and the belief in myself. He talks to me about having an even keel – not getting too high or too low – and to keep working.’’

Oladipo also has a long history of knowledge that if he just keeps working to improve that things will eventually turn around for him.

In high school, Oladipo didn’t become a starter at famed DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Va., until his senior year. And even though he was a standout player there, Rivals.com had his listed as the No. 144th best college prospect and ESPN.com basically yawned at his potential, listing him as the No. 53 ranked shooting guard.

In college at Indiana University, Oladipo played sparingly off the bench in 27 of the 32 games and he averaged just 7.4 points on a Hoosiers team that limped to a 12-20 finish and a 3-15 run in Big 10 conference play.

In time, Oladipo eventually build Indiana back into a powerhouse. It made a 15-win improvement and lost in the Sweet-16 round of the NCAA Tournament to eventual national champion Kentucky the next season and the Hoosiers won the outright Big 10 title during the junior season of Oladipo, a national player of the year winner by some publications.

Oladipo came to the pros with high hopes after being the No. 2 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Magic. Oladipo has made huge strides in the NBA – both as a shut-down defender and an offensive playmaker – but it’s done little to help the Magic sustain a playoff push. Oladipo said he repeatedly asks himself what more he could have done or what he could have done differently after games.

``All the time. I do that every day,’’ Oladipo said of his postgame reflections. ``I watch film all the time to see what I could have done better. Synergy (stats), watching our film – it doesn’t matter what it is; I just try to keep learning and get better.’’

Oladipo stressed that the Magic still have an outside shot at the playoffs this season, but such a run almost certainly has to start with the final two games remaining on this West Coast trip. Finally getting a chance to play meaningful games toward a playoff push would mean the world to the always-optimistic Oladipo.

``That would be huge for us and I’ve just got to try and be somebody who leads the way,’’ Oladipo said. ``I’m going to go out there and play as hard as I can. I believe in us and I believe in me. So we’ve just got to go out there and play like that, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do the rest of the season.’’