No, Victor Oladipo couldnt crack DeMathas starting lineup as a junior (his… (Joe Robbins/GETTY IMAGES )
Victor Oladipo returns to the Washington area this week, which means his basketball career — the truth, the fiction and the thin line separating the two — has come full circle.
“I can’t wait to go home,” the Indiana Hoosiers’ junior guard said the other day, “and play in front of my family and friends and most all these guys, show the world what we’re capable of.”
He stands 6 feet 5 now, eight inches taller than when he first enrolled at DeMatha seven years ago. Oladipo still has that calm confidence, though, a warm smile and a penchant for song.
“What you see is what you get,” Indiana Coach Tom Crean said.
If only it were that simple. Oladipo isn’t really a man of mystery or even one of contradictions. So much of his life is on display.
“Everyone loves him,” teammate Yogi Ferrell said. “He’s the BMOC — the big man on campus.”
But when everyone loves you, everyone talks. Words and stories evolve over time, which is how Oladipo, an Upper Marlboro native, can be all of 20 years old — competing in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 round this week at Verizon Center — yet has already inspired so many myths.
Surely, you’ve heard that he wasn’t even good enough to start on his high school team, right?
Around Washington gyms, they still talk about the time Oladipo sprinted down the court in a game at Spalding and hurdled over an opposing player on a fast break.
His dad missed it, though, because as you also might have heard, he’s been mostly disinterested in Oladipo’s basketball career. The dad wanted to send his son to China to learn karate instead. Or so the story goes.
Oladipo showed up to another high school gym in street clothes and came out of the stands for a dunk contest, throwing the ball off the glass and whipping it between his legs before slamming it home. Oh, and there was that 360-degree dunk, too, back when he played for DeMatha.
There are threads of truth to all of it — some stronger than others — but as friends, family and coaches explain, with Oladipo, the reality is actually more interesting and more complex than any myth.
Myth No. 1:
He was born that way
“To hear people talk now about how good he is, if you realize where he started from, you’d be truly amazed,” said Mike Jones, his high school coach.
When Oladipo started playing at DeMatha, the longtime Washington area powerhouse, he could barely dribble or shoot. Yet he still somehow stood out when nearly 100 freshmen showed up for the first day of open gym.
“We saw this dude running sprints so hard,” said Justin Black, a DeMatha teammate, “and we’re like, ‘Who is this dude?’ ”
From the start, Oladipo insisted on being the first in the gym. His mother or father would have to rise early, leaving their home in Prince George’s County by 5:30 a.m. in order for Oladipo to be at the gym by 6:30.
“He always was the hardest worker,” said Duke guard Quinn Cook, a former DeMatha teammate. “I can remember him always waking me up in the morning, doing push-ups, doing something to get better.”
Oladipo didn’t make the varsity team his first year at DeMatha. His tools were limited, so he focused on areas in which he could simply outwork foes.
“All I could really do is play defense,” he said. “That’s what I had to do in order to get on the floor.”
He knew that to crack the starting lineup and contribute at DeMatha, he’d have to develop his game. Oladipo met each morning with Dave Adkins. The DeMatha assistant didn’t bother with a ball and hoop. Oladipo wasn’t ready. The coach would instead position his young pupil in front of a mirror to work on his shot. The two would sharpen Oladipo’s form and technique, mimicking a shot over and over. It could get tedious, but Oladipo didn’t complain.
“Special players have that inner drive,” said Adkins, now an assistant for the Maryland women’s team.
By his sophomore year, he was rewarded with a spot on the varsity bench. His very first game was at Coolidge in the Caron Butler Classic, with Butler and some of his NBA teammates in attendance. Jones inserted Oladipo midway through the game, just before DeMatha went on a fast break.
Coaches had rarely seen Oladipo get near the rim in practice, but the first time he touched the ball in a game, he wowed everyone with an enthusiastic slam.
Myth No. 2:
His father is unsupportive
From the pixels of Yahoo to the pages of Sports Illustrated, Oladipo’s family has been put under the microscope in recent weeks. Oladipo first told The Washington Post in 2010 that his father didn’t attend his basketball games and he wasn’t sure why. The story line became ripe for further dissection as Oladipo blossomed into one of the nation’s top players these past few months.
“Sometimes I sit down and wonder why he doesn’t come, why he doesn’t want to see me play,” he said in 2010, “but I guess it’s hard to explain.”