Victor Oladipo’s career at Indiana had bookend tearful moments.
In March of 2013 he laid face down on the court in Ann Arbor, pounding the floor, his eyes welled up, after helping to lead the Hoosiers to a first outright Big Ten title in 20 years. It was the culmination of events that had led Oladipo from unwanted high school prospect to NBA Draft lottery pick that had overcome the junior guard on that afternoon.
But a few years earlier, still in the early stages of his massive climb, the tears flowed for a much different reason.
The day he arrived on campus in Bloomington, Oladipo got in a workout and made a bold proclamation.
The relatively unknown and unwanted high school prospect wouldn’t need four years to reach the NBA.
“Dave Spahn (now an NBA agent) walks in the gym because he’s an intern trying to figure out a way to work on the (IU) basketball team, and he asked me what I thought about the team,” Oladipo shared on the Old Man and Three podcast with JJ Reddick.
“I don’t know (about the team), but I’m gonna play three years (at Indiana), and I’m gonna go on to the league.”
Spahn gave Oladipo a look of surprise.
“You’ve gotta work pretty hard if you’re gonna do that,” Spahn responded.
“I don’t shy away from work,” Oladipo responded.
But he was in for a rude awakening.
“I remember two weeks later, after my first college practice, Verdell Jones destroys me, and I start crying after practice,” Oladipo said.
“(Graduate assistant) Seth Cooper comes up to me and says ‘what’s wrong’ and a I said ‘I’ve got a loooong way to go.’
“I didn’t have the skills that Verdell did. I didn’t have the strength either.”
Oladipo was a reserve as a junior at DeMatha High School, and the attention he got from colleges came very late.
“I didn’t have any offers. I was a 6-foot-4 four-man. No one really wanted that,” he said.
Encouraged in part by former Tom Crean player Dwyane Wade, who he randomly met at an event at the White House, Oladipo committed to IU in 2009 after an official visit.
As a freshman Oladipo averaged 18 minutes a game for a team that went 3-15 in the Big Ten. The three-and-done climb still looked steep.
As a sophomore he started 34 games, but over the first two years Oladipo was still a long way from the league. He had made only 18 of 74 three-point attempts to that point in his college career.
“I was on no draft boards,” he said. “I wasn’t even second round.”
“I remember going into my junior year, I didn’t even go home. I didn’t see my mom all summer, and my mom was mad. … I just came back and had a monstrous year.”
Oladipo averaged 13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 2.1 assists as a junior at IU. He shot 44 percent from three and 64 percent from two, catapulting himself to lottery pick status in the process.
And Oladipo’s constant was defense.
He went on to become the Big Ten’s 2013 defensive player of the year. He held the conference’s overall player of the year, Michigan’s Trey Burke, to a 7-of-20, four turnover game with the league crown on the line that 2013 March afternoon in Ann Arbor.
And once again, the tears flowed.
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