Pope: Oladipo returns home ‘not the same player’
By LaMond Pope firstname.lastname@example.org March 27, 2013 10:58PM
Indiana guard Victor Oladipo goes for a layup during practice for a regional semifinal game in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Wednesday, March 27, 2013, in Washington. Indiana plays Syracuse on Thursday. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Updated: April 29, 2013 12:23PM
WASHINGTON — Victor Oladipo sat in a corner in a locker room at the Verizon Center.
Reporters formed a semicircle around him in the crowded space, boxing each other out as if they were preparing to go for a rebound.
At other times, the scene resembled another sport. Much like a hockey shift, when three reporters left, three more rushed over to catch a few of the Indiana junior forward’s words.
This is what it’s like when a Naismith Award finalist comes back home.
Oladipo’s game has slightly changed since his high school days at DeMatha.
“Ha. A lot of things are different,” said Oladipo, who is from nearby Upper Marlboro, Md. “I’m just not the same player. Period.
“I’m bigger. I’m better overall skilled. A better leader. Just everything about my basketball game has changed significantly since the last time I’ve been here.”
Oladipo admits there are some things that are still the same.
“My personality. My smile,” Oladipo said. Then after a pause, he added, “I’m just looking forward to playing.”
Oladipo isn’t the only person affiliated with today’s Indiana-Syracuse game with ties to Maryland. Junior forward Maurice Creek is from Oxon Hill, Md. So is Indiana assistant coach Kenny Johnson.
Syracuse freshman forward Jerami Grant was a teammate of Oladipo’s at DeMatha.
“He was like an older brother,” Grant said “He would come over to our house. We always hung out with Victor. We were real tight, real close.”
Oladipo said the Grants were like a second family.
“We’re really close,” Grant said. “I text him every now and then to see how he’s doing.”
Pretty good, actually.
Oladipo has been the catalyst for the Hoosiers, the top seed in the East Region.
He has done it on both ends of the court. He’s averaging 13.6 points. And he has come through in the clutch. Just see Indiana’s last game, when he nailed a 3-pointer with 15 seconds to go to put away Temple.
Defensively, his 75 steals are a single-season team record. He has 417 deflections. The next closest Hoosier is Cody Zeller with 296.
The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Oladipo almost always is matched up against the opposition’s top scoring threat.
Oladipo has made great leaps during his time at IU.
That foundation was built long before he arrived in Bloomington.
Indiana coach Tom Crean said the first thing that stood out about Oladipo’s intangibles was his eye contact.
“This is somebody that looked his coaches in the eye and looked his teammates in his eye and I know that sounds like a simple thing but in this day and age it’s not. So he stood out that he was aware, he had good self-awareness,” Crean said.
And then there was Oladipo’s defense.
“The thing to me was the burst of athleticism, what he was like around the rim, and then just this innate desire to me to be a great defender, especially on the ball,” Crean said. “How he could spread out with these long arms and quick feet and get his nose down in the players’ chest and not hop and get beat off the dribble but really, really work.”
Oladipo talked about the work that he put in in high school. Getting in at 6:30 a.m. to lift weights or to work on his game.
He talked about winning a couple of city championships with DeMatha and also a couple of AAU titles.
He talked about accepting a role off the bench as a high school junior.
“We had a lot of people who could have a starting position, and I remember coach (Mike) Jones calling me in his office and asking me how I felt about not starting and my response was ‘I just want to win basketball games,’” Oladipo said. “Just like I want to do now, I just want to win basketball games. If we play up to our capabilities right now we’re going to be able to do that, just like we did in high school.”
And he talked about returning home with his teammates.
Oladipo hasn’t had a chance to catch up with friends. He plans on doing that after the game.
“It’s different, being back home,” Oladipo said. “I’ve always wanted to play here with this team. The Indiana Hoosiers. To show everybody why I chose here. To show how great this team is capable of being. For us to get an opportunity like that was a blessing.”