FORT WAYNE – Victor Oladipo marvels at how far he has come during his junior season at Indiana.
The 6-foot-5 guard went from being just another teammates of preseason player of the year candidate Cody Zeller to being a contender for the award himself.
Oladipo was named the Sporting News player of the year, and he is a finalist with Zeller for the Oscar Robertson Trophy and John R. Wooden Award, which honors college basketball’s best players.
It’s been an amazing and humbling experience, but I can’t forget what got me here, Oladipo said. I can’t forget the reason my team is playing the way they are and the things that they need me to do in order for us to be successful. I got to be at a high level on the defensive end and be a leader as well. Without them I wouldn’t be successful, so I’m just happy to be part of this team and our staff. I’m just happy to be part of Indiana basketball.
Indiana is just as happy to have Oladipo.
Oladipo finished the regular season as No. 3 Indiana’s second leading scorer, averaging 13.7 points, and third leading rebounder, averaging 6.2.
He’s got a great motor, whether he’s shooting around after practice or down in the stretch, he’s always going to the same speed, going game speed, said Zeller, who led the team with 16.8 points and 8.1 rebounds. He hates to lose. He’s a competitor. He’s a ton of fun to play with because he has that winning edge.
Points and rebounds only scratch the surface of Oladipo’s worth to Indiana.
The Upper Marlboro, Md., native was named the Big Ten defensive player of the year, averaging a Big Ten-leading 2.2 steals and blocking just under a shot per game at 0.8.
He also transformed himself into a dangerous shooter.
Oladipo made 47.1 percent of his shots last year and was a 20.8 percent shooter on three-pointers. This season, he led the Big Ten in shooting during the regular season at 63.1 percent and he hit 49.1 percent of his three-pointers.
He’s worked hard, and he realized what he has to do to help Indiana win, Purdue coach Matt Painter said. He takes a good shot for Indiana. What I mean by that is you just don’t just shoot in the 60s against people in the best conference in America without being intelligent. He just takes an intelligent shot.
He’s the best defender in our league, in my opinion. That’s a huge statement because I love Aaron Craft. He is changing the game at times without scoring. Very few people, mostly a shot blocker, change the game without scoring, and he is doing it on the defensive end. He can guard anybody.
Oladipo’s ascension to the player he has become at Indiana was predicted.
Coming out of DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., he was only projected as a three-star recruit and was ranked 144th in his class by Rivals.com.
But because of his work ethic, Indiana coach Tom Crean saw a player that could grow and help a Hoosiers team that went a combined 16-46 in Crean’s first two seasons.
I always knew he was a hard worker when we recruited him, Crean said. We are talking about a young man to go to high school had to travel about an hour and a half each way to go to school. When you are like that, and you are getting the grades that he is getting and playing at the level that DeMatha High has and what he’s doing in the summer time with his (AAU team) Team Takeover team, you know that he is a hard worker.
This is nothing new with him since the first summer that he got to Indiana, along with Will Sheehey, they have absolutely worn out their key cards on Cook Hall (IU’s training facility). That’s a great thing.
Oladipo isn’t done working yet, even if he has become one of college basketball’s best.
I can become so much better, Oladipo said. Every day of my life, I tell that to myself because it is true. There are a lot of things I need to work on, and I’m willing to work on them. I’m not going to stop working on them, because when I do (work) I believe it helps my team win. It is not only for me, it is for my team.