If Not USA Team, Oladipo Could Play for Nigeria in 2016 Olympics

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

By John DentonOct. 7, 2015

LOUISVILLE, Ky – Next week, Victor Oladipo will take his first-ever trip to the sports-crazed country of Brazil when his Orlando Magic play an exhibition game in Rio de Janeiro.

If things break just right this coming summer, Oladipo will be back in Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics. However, it could come via a path most sports fans would never expect.

Oladipo’s first choice, of course, is to be selected to play for USA Basketball – the heavy favorites to win a third straight gold medal – in the Summer Olympics. However, if Oladipo is bypassed by USA Basketball, he could opt to play for Nigeria because of his parents’ heritage with the African country.

Nigeria, which is ranked No. 24 in the FIBA world rankings, is considered the best basketball nation in the Africa Zone. Nigeria is the only African nation to ever qualify for the Summer Olympics in basketball, doing so in 2012 after shocking world powers Greece and Lithuania. It went 1-4 in the 2012 Olympics, beating Tunisia for the country’s first Olympic basketball victory.

Oladipo, 23, has his focus firmly affixed the upcoming season with the Magic and said his Olympic fate likely won’t be decided until the early summer. Oladipo is expected to wait until after Team USA announces its roster before he decides whether or not to play for Nigeria.

``Playing in the Olympics is definitely a dream, but I’ll worry about it when the time comes. Right now, the focus is on winning games for the Orlando Magic,’’ Oladipo said on Tuesday. ``At the end of the day, whatever (Olympic) opportunity appears on the table, it will be about making the right decision that’s best for me.’’

Victor, who was born in Silver Spring, Md., and raised in nearby Upper Malboro, has blossomed into a NBA standout the past two seasons with the Magic after being the No. 2 pick of the 2013 NBA Draft.

Oladipo’s growth as a player led to him being invited to play on the USA Basketball Select Team in Las Vegas in the summer of 2014, and he was back with Team USA for the squad’s mini-camp this past August. USA basketball Executive Director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski have been highly complementary of Oladipo’s versatility as a player and his promise on future USA Basketball teams.

``I always have liked his game a lot,’’ Colangelo said of Oladipo in 2014. ``He has a lot of energy and plays with a lot of enthusiasm.’’

The odds of making USA Basketball’s team for the Olympics could be a longshot for Oladipo considering his experience level and the more-seasoned talent also on the squad’s 34-player roster. Reigning MVP Steph Curry and all-stars Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and John Wall are the favorites to lock up the guard slots for Team USA – winners of gold in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London. However, injuries and contract negotiations could potentially open up a spot for Oladipo.

Practicing with and against USA Basketball’s stars the past two summers has been a dream come true, Oladipo said. In addition to making him a better player, Oladipo said those experiences have enhanced his desire to play in the Olympics for Team USA.

``Being with Team USA after watching it my whole life, of course you dream of playing with a team like that and on that world stage,’’ he said. ``Going out there and experiencing that, growing as a player and being around the best players in the world, that was definitely a humbling experience.’’

Playing for Nigeria might be an option because Oladipo’s parents, Christopher and Joan Amanze Oladipo, were born and raised in Nigeria. They immigrated separately from Nigeria more than 25 years ago and were married in the U.S. in 1995. Their only son’s official birth name is Kehinde Babatunde ``Victor’’ Oladipo.

Oladipo is very proud of his Nigerian heritage and he said that his mother is very aware that her son could play for her native country. Nigeria, the 2015 Africas champion, has already qualified for the 2016 Olympics.

``My mom obviously knows because she pays attention to stuff like that, but she’s never mentioned anything to me about it,’’ Oladipo said with a chuckle. ``I just go out there and play basketball. Whatever decision comes, I’ll make that decision when I need to.’’

Coincidentally, the Magic’s training camp roster features three players with Nigerian roots: Small forward Melvin Ejim, center Nnanna Egwu. The three of them have parents of African descent, but grew up in North America and they regularly talk about their Nigerian heritages.

``It’s pretty cool. We can relate to each other and talk about it,’’ Oladipo said of his teammates with Nigerian ties. ``At the end of the day, I’m Nigerian and that’s the blood that runs through my veins. I was raised under that heritage, I eat the (Nigerian) food and I go to the parties. I’m a Nigerian-American at the end of the day.’’