Oladipo Could Blossom Back Home Again in Indiana

He calls Indiana “home,” and when you think about it he might as well.

Victor Oladipo was born and raised in Maryland, then spent three years at Indiana University in Bloomington, then played three seasons in the NBA for Orlando, then played one season in Oklahoma City. Now he’s a member of the Pacers, acquired along with Domantas Sabonis in the trade that sent Paul George to the Thunder.

It was in Indiana that he bloomed (late) and gained the confidence he could play in the NBA. It was in Indiana he bathed in the fans’ intense devotion to basketball, and became addicted to the adrenaline rush of a big moment in a big game. It was in Indiana he found people dedicated to his success, who stuck with him from the time he was a freshman starting in just five games and averaging 7.4 points until he became the second pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.

So, he’s happy to be back in Indiana.

“There’s no feeling like it,” Oladipo said Friday at a press conference at Bankers Life Fieldhouse that introduced him to the media along with Sabonis and point guard Darren Collison. “To get off that plane the other day and realize where I’m at…to see familiar faces is as good feeling. This is where it all started for me.

“I’m a Hoosier. Living, breathing, anyway you can imagine, I’m a Hoosier. Representing the Pacers organization is a blessing.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Oladipo/Sabonis/Collins Introductory Press Conference »

That’s the kind of thing a player is supposed to stay at a press conference, of course, and being a “Hoosier” won’t mean anything next season if he isn’t playing well and the team isn’t winning consistently. Team president Kevin Pritchard made it clear that Oladipo’s ties to the state had nothing to do with the decision to trade for him. Long-term, only winning sells tickets.

Still, it doesn’t hurt. The first time Oladipo puts on a Pacers uniform in a regular season game, he’ll become the first former IU player to do so since Randy Wittman in 1992, and the 11th in franchise history. He’s not home-grown like the Indianapolis native Wittman was, but he’s close enough to get bonus points from fans who appreciate that kind of thing.

Oladipo wouldn’t mind settling here for a while. He’ll be playing for his third team in five seasons, a rare state of uncertainty for someone selected so early in the draft. It’s not that he’s disappointed. He averaged 17.9 points in his second season in Orlando, and has a career scoring average of 15.9. Last season with the Thunder, he shot a career-best 36 percent from 3-point range.

Collison, his likely partner in the Pacers’ starting backcourt next season, likes what he’s seen so far.

“Victor can be a very special player in this league,” Collison said. “Sometimes it takes opportunity and the right situation to take off. I’ve been watching his game for a long time. I just think this is a situation where he can take off.”

At 25, Oladipo should continue to improve for at least a few more seasons. What remains to be seen is whether his season with Russell Westbrook, who dominated the ball while averaging a triple-double last season, helped or hindered his development. Oladipo says he appreciated seeing Westbrook’s work ethic and preparation up close, but Pritchard acknowledged it could be a mixed bag.

“When you play with a guy like Westbrook, sometimes he can create a lot of things but sometimes it can be a little more challenging,” Pritchard said. “Victor for us has a chance to blossom into a real 20-point scorer, night-in and night-out. He has those instincts, but yet he wants to play the right way, too. He wants to compete on the defensive end. He wants to make the right play. We studied him hard and feel he still has a lot of upside.”

PHOTOS: Victor Oladipo Career Gallery »

Oladipo is indeed a good defender, and hardly comes across as a selfish person. But he looks to score first and foremost, and looks forward to having more scoring opportunities than in Oklahoma City. He said he wants to be more aggressive, learn to get to the spots on the court where he’s most effective, and read defenses better.

“Being able to balance being aggressive and getting my teammates involved, but at the same time keeping that relentlessness,” he said. “I don’t care how many shots I’ve missed, I’m going to keep shooting the ball. I’m going to keep that for the rest of my career.”

That’s OK only if he shoots well enough to justify that approach. He seem to have put the time in, at least. He gives credit to former IU teammate Jordan Hulls for helping him develop his shot through endless workouts in Bloomington.

“Without Jordan Hulls, I wouldn’t be the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft; I tell people that every day,” Oladipo said.

“I worked out with Jordan every day. We used to do shooting competitions every day and I used to get my butt kicked every day. But I could just feel myself becoming a better shooter shooting against Jordan. Shooting against Jordan. Shooting against Jordan. Shooting against Jordan. It got to the point I’d say, ‘Yo, Jordan, you coming to work out?’ I used to have nightmares that I couldn’t beat him.

“He helped me change my mindset. He helped me change my shot and be who I am and get me drafted. A lot of credit goes to Jordan Hulls, man.”

Oladipo continues put in time. He works out with Dwyane Wade in Miami, and considers him a mentor. He has posted social media photos of his ripped abdomen muscles from his off-season workouts. He even carries two NBA basketballs with him wherever he goes. He can’t remember the last day he didn’t at least touch a basketball. He even took a couple on his postseason vacation to Mexico, a fact that didn’t exactly please his girlfriend.

“Wherever there’s a gym I try to be in it.

“I just have it in my hand in the mornings, and at night time I dribble it around the hotel room,” he said.

Now he’s dribbled full circle, practically, back where his basketball career began in many respects. It’s a good place to begin anew.

“I haven’t accomplished anything, I feel like,” he said. “I feel there’s so much more I need to accomplish, so much more I need to show, so much more I need to do. When I first got into this league I told them I want to be one of the best to ever play, and that hasn’t changed. I’m looking forward to fulfilling that dream of mine as a Pacer.”


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