By John Denton July 5, 2013
ORLANDO – There were no adoring fans chanting his name or television cameras around to broadcast the moment to a national audience, but the magnitude of Victor Oladipo’s first practice with the Orlando Magic was not lost on the rookie guard.
The Magic rookie knows there is only one first time in the NBA and he desperately wants to savor every second of his start. So simple tasks such as tugging on his blue and black jersey, staring down at the Magic logo on the floor or the banners in the rafters tends to put a lump in his throat these days.
``It hits me every time that I wake up in the morning. It’s just kind of surreal putting on this uniform, coming into this locker room and saying that you are in the NBA and you play for the Orlando Magic,’’ Oladipo said on Friday. ``It’s stuff that you only imagine and now it’s coming true. I’m just trying to make the most of it and definitely have fun with my teammates and grow a relationship with them. I want to continue to get better as a player and a person.’’
Getting better is the goal this week and next for Oladipo, who will be going through five practice sessions with the Magic before action in the Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League begins on Sunday. The Magic drafted Oladipo second overall in last week’s NBA Draft, and they are hoping to use his first Summer League to challenge him mentally and physically.
The Magic are also hoping to get Oladipo familiar playing with a young core of players such as Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O’Quinn, DeQuan Jones and Doron Lamb. Harkless, who has made huge strides in the weight room this offseason following a solid rookie season, is already quite impressed with what he’s seen from Oladipo on the floor.
``I’m already in love with the kid’s game,’’ Harkless gushed, referring to the 21-year-old Oladipo. ``He goes hard, he goes really hard on the defensive end. He plays really in control and can play point guard and shooting guard. He goes hard and gets after it every day. I think he’ll be good.’’
Magic Summer League coach James Borrego, head coach Jacque Vaughn’s lead assistant during the season, plans to use the five games over the six-day period to see how Oladipo responds to various situations. In addition to playing him at shooting guard, Oladipo will run the team from the point guard slot and guard a host a different kinds of players. They are eager to see how much NBA knowledge and nuances he can absorb and how he meshes with his new teammates.
``This is the time to do it, move him around and see where he can fit for us in the different positions,’’ Borrego said of playing Oladipo some at point guard. ``Put him on the ball and off the ball. Guarding bigger guys and guarding point guards, this is the time to do it. This is a great opportunity to see what we have and let him go.
``In five practices, you don’t know what you have, but you’ll get to see (Oladipo) in a game and you’ll get to see it in a short among of time,’’ Borrego continued. ``You’ll get to see what kind of instinct he has. You’ll give him a little bit of coaching and see how he absorbs that and how he takes coaching in a short amount of time.’’
Magic GM Rob Hennigan, Assistant GMs Scott Perry and Matt Lloyd and Vaughn fell in love with Oladipo’s combination of work ethic, talent on the court and basketball smarts in the weeks leading up to the draft. They liked how Oladipo has improved every year, going from an overlooked and raw prospect as a freshman to an All-American last season at Indiana. He was the nation’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year for the Hoosiers, and Borrego said it has been interesting to watch how Oladipo uses his basketball smarts to thrive on the court.
``He’s a very competitive kid and very coachable,’’ the coach said. ``He’s easy to work with and a hard worker and he understands the game. I think his basketball IQ is much higher than I even anticipated. He understands the game so well and we’re very happy with him.’’
Oladipo said some of the subtle differences between college and the NBA that he’s already picked up on is the quickness of the game and the shorter time that teammates come open. He said he’s already beginning to understand the importance of spacing in the NBA game and he likes how defenders aren’t allowed to camp in the lane because of the defensive three-seconds rule.
As for playing point guard in the NBA, Oladipo doesn’t see it as being as big of an adjustment as some might think. He often initiated pick-and-roll plays at Indiana, and he’s still working before practice every day to improve his ball-handling. As for defending other point guards, it’s a challenge that he said he is more than up to the task of doing.
``I’m a guard, so whatever guard position they want me to run I feel comfortable running it,’’ Oladipo said. ``I pretty much did the same thing at Indiana and ran some (point guard) there. I’ll just do whatever they need in order to help us win. If they need me to play there for us to win, that sounds good to me.’’
Oladipo said he isn’t afraid to admit that there will be plenty of jitters when he plays his first Summer League game on Sunday when the Magic face the Boston Celtics at 11 a.m. But those jitters will be nothing compared to the emotions that he’s felt over the last week after being selected No. 2 in the draft, working to acclimate himself to the NBA game and moving to Orlando. He said he is the reflective type who enjoys savoring moments and he wants his first NBA experiences to be a good one.
``It’s just been fun and I’ve just been trying to enjoy it because this is the game that I love,’’ Oladipo said. ``At the end of the day, it’s my job and there are going to be good days and bad days, but it’s what I love to do, so I need to have fun at it getting better. I want to take my time and enjoy it because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience being that it’s my first year.’’
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