Keith Appling. Adreian Payne. Will Sheehey.
According to Rivals’ final rankings of the top 150 players in the class of 2010, those three young men, along with 140 other high school seniors, were better college basketball prospects than Victor Oladipo.
Fast forward two and a half years.
With all three of those young men on the court today in Bloomington, plus a plethora of other blue chip recruits – Branden Dawson, Cody Zeller, Yogi Ferrell, and Gary Harris, to name a few – there was no debate about who was the best player on the floor:
Oladipo Compares Favorably to IU Legends
Once the 144th-ranked player in the class of 2010, Victor Oladipo has become one of the most complete players in the history of Indiana basketball.
That’s not hyperbole-of-the-moment. It’s not an over-infatuation with Oladipo the person leading to an overestimation of his skills and production.
Right before our eyes Victor Oladipo has morphed from someone people saw as a potential Steve Hart clone – a freak athlete who lacked skills – into a devastating combination of Bobby Wilkerson and Greg Graham.
Those names are legendary in Indiana basketball lore. Yes, Victor Oladipo’s belongs right aside them.
No less an authority than Ken Bikoff tweeted the Wilkerson comparison earlier today:
One well-respected person who has been around IU basketball for decades said Victor reminds him defensively of Bobby Wilkerson. Discuss.
— Ken Bikoff (@kbikoff) January 27, 2013
Wilkerson, you may remember, was the defensive stalwart of the last college basketball team to go undefeated. He had such freaky athleticism that he jumped center … on a team that had 7-foot center Kent Benson and All American Scott May.
If you watched Oladipo control the first half of today’s IU-Michigan State game from the defensive end of the floor, you know it’s an apt comparison.
Numbers do not usually do Oladipo’s impact justice, but today they did.
Tom Crean said he’s never had a player get 15 deflections in a half like Oladipo did in the first half. For the game, Victor finished with six steals, many of which led to easy transition buckets.
But defense – and the Wilkerson comparison – tell only half of the Oladipo story. And frankly, it is the half we somewhat expected even from the beginning for the young, 144th-ranked Oladipo. With his athleticism and De Matha pedigree, we figured he’d at least be able to defend. Not like this. But something close.
What has taken Oladipo’s game to a new level this year is his offensive improvement.
No longer just a slasher who can score in transition and by accumulating garbage buckets in the paint, Oladipo is now a legitimate all-around offensive threat. Look at the numbers:
- Oladipo is averaging a career-high 13.5 points per game, a number that certainly would be higher were IU – the best offensive team in America – not so absurdly balanced in the scoring department.
- He is shooting 66% from the field. That’s not a typo. Victor is taking nearly eight shots a game and making two-thirds of them.
- From downtown, supposedly his biggest Achilles’ Heel, Oladipo is shooting 55.2%. Again, not a typo. Neither is this: Victor “Alfordipo” has made 13 of his last 16 three-point attempts, including at least one make in 10 of IU’s last 11 games.
- Just to complete the picture, Oladipo is grabbing nearly six rebounds per game, garnering 2.4 assists per, and is getting 2.3 steals per game.
- Oh, and he’s doing all of this while drawing the toughest defensive assignment every time out.
In case you want a little proof that the Greg Graham comparison isn’t crazy, here you go.
As a senior, Graham turned in one of the most explosive and efficient offensive seasons in school history. Playing alongside IU immortal Calbert Cheaney, Graham scored 16.5 points per game with these ridiculous shooting percentages: 55.0% overall and 51.% from downtown.
I distinctly remember an article being written after Graham torched Michigan State for 32 points that said Graham was “the best guard in America.” No one argued. That’s how well he was playing.
It is fitting then, on the day Oladipo played like the best guard in America against Michigan State, that we wonder the same thing…
Look at Graham’s shooting percentages. Oladipo still has a ways to go, and plenty of tough competition against whom his shooting efficiency may dip a bit, but he’s actually besting Graham from the field and from downtown.
It’s crazy. Absolutely crazy.
Bobby Wilkerson is one of the best defenders and overall athletes in school history. People who know a thing or two about IU basketball are comparing Oladipo to him.
Greg Graham developed into one of the best offensive guards in school history. I saw every home game he played at IU. And that’s the name I keep thinking of every time I watch Victor play this year.
Yes, somehow Victor Oladipo – 144th-ranked Victor Oladipo – has become a scintillating combination of Bobby Wilkerson and Greg Graham.
Oh, and he’s a charismatic leader, a good student, and an upstanding kid all-round too. So throw a little Chris Reynolds in the mix as well.
Also, he gets the IU crowd jacked up more than anyone since AJ Moye. So mix a little of that in there too.
The point? Victor Oladipo has gone from something of a recruiting afterthought to being not only IU’s undisputed MVP so far this season, but one of the most complete players in school history. It seems ludicrous, I know. But only if you haven’t been paying attention.
Savor This IU Legend in the Making
You know who has been paying attention? NBA scouts.
According to ESPN, Victor is now a mid-first round pick. Coming into the season, a fourth year in Bloomington for Victor was all but certain, as most thought his offensive game had too far to go for him to be an early entrant.
The improvements Victor Oladipo have made in every facet of his game have been on full display nearly every time out this year. It was Cody Zeller who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated before the season, but it’s been Victor Oladipo who has taken charge and led Indiana to an 18-2 start.
I wrote last year that Oladipo’s stats were showing similarities to Dwyane Wade at a similar point in his career playing for Tom Crean. That comparison is even more apt now, with Oladipo, like Wade, being the best player on a potential Final Four team.
For the record, that’s Dwyane Wade, Bobby Wilkerson, Greg Graham, AJ Moye, and Chris Reynolds that I’ve compared Oladipo too. All in a little over 1,000 words.
And he deserves all the praise.
It takes a lot for me to reshuffle my personal Mount Rushmore of IU players. When he was a freshman, I never thought Oladipo could be a guy who would even sniff it. But you know what? He’s already there.
The irony is that, had IU not been so down in the dumps at the time, maybe Tom Crean never recruits Victor Oladipo. The 144th-ranked player in the class? And he’s not even an Indiana kid? What do we need him for?
What a shame that would have been.
Victor Oladipo was exactly what Indiana needed. A kid with spirit, and energy, and an unyielding belief in himself plus an indefatigable desire to improve. He’s a lot like this coach in that way, which is why they have been such a perfect match.
Yes, Cody Zeller’s commitment to Indiana signaled that IU hoops was back on the right track. But, in hindsight, bringing Oladipo to Bloomington was just as important.
He may not have grown up loving Indiana basketball, and he may not have been an Indiana kid, but he embodies absolutely everything that I love about this program. And it’s no coincidence that his improvement has mirrored Indiana’s improvement.
Why shouldn’t it? Victor is Indiana’s emotional leader, its vocal leader, and its best player.
Let’s enjoy these last two months with him IU fans. They are likely to be all we have left with Victor in the Cream and Crimson before he takes a well-earned next step to the NBA.
As you watch, and enjoy, remember: you’re watching one of the best all-around players in the storied history of IU basketball.
And my goodness is it a dazzling sight to see.