BLOOMINGTON – The well-rounded education of Indiana’s junior shooting guard may have come full circle even before the house was packed to capacity.
The last of the over 17,000 people were filling the remaining seats of Assembly Hall Sunday afternoon when the Michigan State controlled the opening tip and got the ball to sophomore Branden Dawson.
Victor Oladipo was there to greet him-and he was ready. The junior guard was squared up on the Spartans guard when he first leaned in then switched hands to drive to his right. Oladipo knew what was coming, and made Dawson pay.
With a flick of his right hand toward the ball Oladipo plucked it out of the guards hands. It bounced behind Dawson and into the sprinting hands of Oladipo, who was already on his way to the hoop 10 feet in front of anyone else with the ball. Forty-five feet of hardwood was covered in a few seconds as Oladipo went in for a one-handed slam that pumped energy into a building still nearing its zenith of enthusiasm.
“I have to play the game at a high level-on both sides of the floor,” said Oladipo when asked what he’s learned of his role at Indiana since arriving from DeMatha (MD) High School two years ago. “That sums it up right there.”
From a results standpoint, that one play to start the game does just that. So did Sunday’s effort for Oladipo, one in which he led the Hoosiers with 21 points while also collecting six steals which may have been just as valuable in a 75-70 defeat of the Spartans that gave Indiana a share of the Big Ten lead.
“That’s just Victor now,” said senior Christian Watford of the versatility of Oladipo’s game. “It’s definitely a part of our offense now. We feel like we’re a great team when Victor does do this. He brings a lot of energy. Not only that, he gets us open by the way he attacks the basket.”
Becoming this solid blend of an offensive and defensive player is really the culmination of a project of two-and-a-half years for the guard, and it wasn’t by design of a coaching staff. According to head coach Tom Crean, Oladipo remains one of the most committed players to self improvement staring with his arrival in the program back in 2010.
“I think he’s a great example of the old boring statement of daily improvement,” said Crean of Oladipo. “I have not seen him not have a day where he was not doing something extra in the day whether it’s after practice, whether it’s in the summer time or the springtime and being in the gym extra.”
That helped Oladipo pull of a bit of a rare feat-starting more games in his first two seasons in Bloomington than his career in high school. Last season he saw a major jump in points as he cracked the double digit mark with 10.8 points a game while averaging 1.5 steals a contest.
Yet Oladipo has taken things to a higher level this season. His points per game have jumped up to 13.9 while his steals are now up to 2.5 a contest. He’s also seen an increase in rebounds (6 a game compared to 5 in 2011-2012) along with a 22 percent jump in his field goal percentage.
Crean has an idea why his elevation has been steady.
“We watch a lot of film as a team but he always watches that much more,” said Crean of Oladipo. “He’s getting a knowledge base to go with those instincts and his talent and his athleticism and the more he does that, the better he’s going to be. Guys like that learn that your instincts cant’ get better without that knowledge. They can get to a point, but the more you add to that knowledge of’ I can do this and I can do that’ and ‘when he comes this way I can go there.’
“That’s part of the game. That’s part of them taking the next step.”
Sunday might have been the biggest yet for Oladipo, who followed up the promising beginning with one of his more impressive performance of the season. He stole four passes in the opening 20 minutes and took away two more before it was all said and done, triggering the Hoosiers’ transition game that accounted for 14 fast-break points and 26 off turnovers.
“I kind of see it as the game develops and I just read the passer’s eyes,” said Oladipo of getting turnovers. “It just shows that we can run. Transition is a big deal on our team and for me to get those steals and start our break was a huge for us. My guys did a good job of playing defense and running on the break.”
Right from the very beginning, thanks to effort from the start of a promising guard’s career.