Victor Oladipo isn’t a prototypical point guard but he is a playmaker, which is why the Orlando Magic has no qualms about putting the ball in the hands of a precocious rookie.
In his first game as a professional basketball player at Verizon Center, the former DeMatha High and Indiana standout flashed his incredible vision and passing ability in the first quarter of the Wizards’ 98-80 victory. With teammate Maurice Harkless out ahead, Oladipo split four backpedaling Wizards – Trevor Ariza, John Wall, Marcin Gortat and Martell Webster – with a beautiful low bounce pass that Harkless caught and finished with a two-handed dunk.
Oladipo later used his speed and athleticism to drive around Wall and dart down the lane for an emphatic dunk that elicited a loud response from a huge collection of supporters inside.
“It’s incredible. Words can’t describe it really,” Oladipo said after scoring 13 points in his homecoming. “It’s fun to be able to play in front of my friends and family. I’ve come a long way. Went to school not too far from here. To be able to say I’m playing on an elite level is just an amazing feeling. Like I tell you all the time, I would’ve been the last person would’ve thought would’ve been here. I’m just blessed and fortunate.
“The only thing is, I’m tired of coming to D.C. and losing,” Oladipo said, recalling Indiana’s season-ending loss to Syracuse in the same building in the Sweet Sixteen last March.
The second overall pick in last June’s draft, Oladipo is off to a solid start in Orlando. He ranks in the top five among all NBA rookies in different categories – scoring (13.2 points, second), assists (3.4, third), field goal percentage (41.5, fourth), steals (1.65, second) and minutes (28.6).
“I got to be able to learn how to be aggressive and at the same time keep everybody else involved, make the simple play and stuff like that,” Oladipo said. “I’m not going to be able to learn until I just continue to keep growing and watch film and learning from people like [Magic veteran guard Jameer Nelson] and the coaching staff as well. I got a long way to go. I’m just willing to work to get there.”
As one of the early contenders for rookie of the year, Oladipo is already leaving an impression. “I just like how he has that dog,” Wall said. “He has that it-factor with him. He’s backing down from nobody. Very strong. Very athletic. Quick with the ball. I think he’s still trying to find his way into this league and find his game.”
Oladipo was gone before the Wizards selected Otto Porter Jr. third overall, but he had little interest in starting his career in Washington. He declined to work out for the team at Verizon Center, believing that there wouldn’t be many minutes available with Wall and Bradley Beal in the backcourt, but Oladipo invited the team to come visit him while he trained at DeMatha.
Coach Randy Wittman, who won a national championship at Indiana in 1981, has followed Oladipo’s career from the past few years and admitted that the team had interest in him before the draft.
“We looked at him,” Wittman said. “He’s a player that’s obviously progressed the last couple of years. Being a kid that, probably, not a lot of people recruited hard. First year at Indiana, was nothing spectacular and then each year got better, to where he was mentioned in the player of the year running last year. He’s a kid that’s got a great upside and he works hard. And a good kid. So we looked at him. It’s based on, up there, is talent, you try to get as much as you can.”
When asked about how the Wizards would’ve been able to utilize Olapido, Wittman said, “I don’t have to worry about that now. The league’s changed. It’s not so much, the one, two, three, four and a five. It’s putting players out on the floor that play well together and can establish themselves on the floor together. It’s not a situation where you had to worry about playing those two guys together. He has the ability to handle the ball as well as Bradley does. When you have two guys like that, it’s easy to play together.”
Oladipo said Monday’s game was especially emotional because his father, Chris, saw him in the NBA for the first time. Chris Oladipo never attended his son’s games in high school or college. “It’s amazing. It’s just nice for him to come. I really appreciate him for doing that. I wish I could have won. I wish I could have played a little bit better but you know you just live to play another day.”