Myth No. 3:
He was never a starter
“This guy didn’t start at DeMatha High School as a senior,” Bruce Pearl, the former Tennessee coach, said on ESPN last month. “He couldn’t shoot, he couldn’t dribble. He was a 6-3 power forward that Tom Crean took a chance on four years ago.”
Oladipo’s high school teams were loaded. Among this year’s NCAA tournament field alone, Oladipo played alongside Duke’s Cook, Syracuse’s Jerami Grant, Georgetown’s Mikael Hopkins, Pittsburgh’s James Robinson and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant.
“A lot of people didn’t really get to see how talented he was on our high school team because we were just so loaded,” Cook said.
If Crean was gambling with Oladipo, he at least knew the odds weren’t too bad. The truth is, Oladipo started his senior season at DeMatha and was very good.
It was during Oladipo’s junior season that Jones struggled with a problem few coaches complain about: He had seven guys who deserved to start. He met with his team before that season and explained that he had only five blue starter’s jerseys to go around.
“Vic just said, ‘You know what . . . ’ and he switched his jersey to the gray team before anyone asked him to,” said Black, who now plays at Morgan State.
“He’s all about the team and winning,” Jones added. “He wanted to win moreso than hear his name called in that starting lineup.”
Oladipo kept working on his shot, always arriving early and staying late. While others complained about suicide sprints, Oladipo embraced competition. If he wasn’t the first to finish, he’d tell everyone to line up to run them again.
“You could say I flourished later or was a late bloomer or whatever you want to call it,” he said.
By Oladipo’s senior year, Jones had no choice but to start him. En route to being named first team All-Met, Oladipo averaged 11.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.6 blocks and DeMatha won both the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title and the city championship.
The win over Ballou in the City Title game in 2010, in fact, was the last time Oladipo played at Verizon Center.
Myth No. 4:
Basketball is his only talent
In the spring of 2011, after Oladipo’s freshman season, the Hoosiers held their inaugural “Spirit of Indiana Showcase,” an awards program honoring the school’s student-athletes. Wearing a white cable-knit cardigan and sunglasses, Oladipo walked through the audience, crooning Usher’s hit “U Got It Bad” as he made his way to the stage.
“He’s always singing,” senior Jordan Hulls said, “no matter where we’re at.”
“Nonstop,” sophomore Cody Zeller said. “I appreciate he gets a little country in there, so he always mixes it up.”
It didn’t take long for Indiana’s players or fans to become enamored with Oladipo. His big personality plays well both on and off the court.
“He never takes a day off,” Crean said.
As a junior, Oladipo’s performances have come to overshadow most of the myths. He was named the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year. The Sporting News already named him a first-team all-American. He’s averaging 13.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game and is projected by most analysts as a top 10 pick in June’s NBA draft. By that time, he will have completed his bachelor’s degree in sport communication broadcast in just three years.
“I don’t think he has a limit,” said Indiana assistant Kenny Johnson, Oladipo’s former AAU coach who’s known him since middle school. “His potential is through the ceiling and he’s progressing. Not monthly or weekly, but daily. He’s one of those unique individuals who I don’t think we’ve seen his best yet. It’s still ahead of him.”
Liz Clarke contributed to this report.