Oladipo Ready to Make Himself Heard

You always know when Victor Oladipo enters the room. He doesn't wait to be noticed, doesn't wait to be talked to, but rather announces his presence for all to hear.

"Hi, everybody!" he shouted as he entered the interview room reserved for Pacers Media Day on Monday. He then held up his cell phone and began recording video of the reporters awaiting him.

"What's up, y'all!? Y'all good!? Everybody good!?" he shouted again as he took a seat at the table on the raised platform. "Testing!" he added, leaning into the microphone.

Always upbeat, always clowning, always assertive, Oladipo has left no doubt about his place on the Pacers. He might not be their only leader but he's clearly the leader, having leapfrogged older players such as Darren Collison and Thaddeus Young and more tenured players such as Myles Turner. It wasn't a coincidence he was the one placed in the middle of the group photos that followed, the one holding the basketball.

He's two years removed from being traded by Orlando to Oklahoma City. He's one year removed from being traded by Oklahoma City, where he had been an also-ran complement to Russell Westbrook, to the Pacers. Now he's the most popular Pacers player since Reggie Miller, who retired 13 years ago, and the most influential team member on and off the court.

All because he's had the willpower to make himself noticed.

"He's the reason why the whole team is so positive," Collison said out on the main court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. "Him being the best player and so positive, you have no choice but to be positive. Victor, I can't say enough about him. That's how he was last year, that's how he always is, that's how he's always going to be."

Oladipo is coming off a season that could be viewed as an arrival. He averaged 23.1 points, played in the All-Star Game for the first time, was voted to the first all-Defensive team and was named the league's Most Improved Player.

He appears to be treating it more like a launching pad, however. If there were any doubts whether he could maintain the determination that propelled him through last season, he appeared to answer them over the summer. Not only with his workouts, but the week-long mini-camp he organized and partially funded for his teammates in Miami.

Every player except Bojan Bogdanovic, who was playing with his national team in FIBA competition in Europe, flew to Miami to participate. They conditioned, they scrimmaged, they dined together, they heard a motivational speaker and they even went to Top Golf, where newcomer Doug McDermott — he of the seven handicap in real golf — dominated the competition.

It was a leadership gesture unprecedented in franchise history. Some previous teams have gathered early in Indianapolis before training camp and the 1999 team organized player-directed workouts during the NBA lockout, but no player has stepped forward as forcefully as Oladipo did last month.

Another thing about Oladipo: he lowers the volume when answering questions about himself.

"It was pretty cool and we had a good time, too," he said of the gathering in Miami.

"I think it was a great start to our season, to step outside of our comfort zones and get to know somebody you might not already know. Maybe that will get us over the hump, whatever that might be.

"I don't want to leave any stone unturned. I don't want to look back on this year and think to myself, man, I could have done this better. I had that feeling last year. I don't plan on having that feeling this year."

Oladipo's primary struggle last season was dealing with stardom. Coming off a season in which he averaged 15.9 points in Oklahoma City and being part of a trade most analysts considered a major victory for the Thunder because they had acquired Paul George, expectations for the Pacers were tepid. The national consensus was 32 wins, maybe 33.

But they exceeded those expectations with 48 victories, mostly because of his expectation-exceeding season.

He scored 35 points in his fifth game, 47 points in his 26th game, and had two more 38-point games before Christmas. But as opponents increasingly tightened their defensive screws on him, he sometimes faltered. That was particularly true in the first-round playoff loss to Cleveland. After scoring 32 points in Game 1 and 22 points in Game 2, the Cavs flustered him with double-teams on the perimeter. He scored just 47 points total over the next three games, hitting 12-of-50 field goal attempts, and failed to make them pay with assists.

He bounced back to finish the series with games of 28 and 30 points, but flew back to Indianapolis after the Game 7 loss to the Cavs with plenty of fuel to become better.

So, how did he get better this summer?

That's another thing about Oladipo. He turns coy when the questions turn to his accomplishments or performance.

"It would be hard for me to tell you, but I can show you very well," he said.

Any new skills he acquired over the summer?

"I can show you," he said. "I'll show you, for sure. In about 2 1/2 weeks. I won't even bring it out in preseason, I'm going to wait until the regular season."

Whatever he has to bring, he says he'll be ready for whatever defenses bring. He knows he's viewed differently now, knows he'll have to play differently than last season. His days as just another guy are over, now that he's made himself noticed.

He says he knows what's coming. Says he's prepared for it. Says he's watched film of every game last season. Says he'll respond accordingly. Says he'll always keep a chip on his shoulder to remind himself of past slights and to provide motivation.

"I'm going to leave it out there," he said. "Just read the game and play the game."

He interrupted one of the final questions to shout out a greeting to teammate Myles Turner, who had entered from the back of the room. When the questions had been drained, he was back in playful mode.

"That's it?"

"Thank you guys! Myles! You're up!"

He launched into a rambling, joking introduction of Turner, then continued with the jokes as Turner took his seat.

"Watch out, they attack!" he said before leaving.

Another training camp is upon the Pacers, and Victor Oladipo's presence already has been felt.