Victor Oladipo isn’t satisfied. Being selected with the second overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft was only the beginning of his quest to succeed, not the end result of his work to get to the pros.
Now that he is halfway through his sophomore season, he has shown improvements from his rookie year. His scoring has increased, his offensive rating has improved and he was named to the Slam Dunk Contest and Rising Stars Challenge for All-Star Weekend. But the Orlando Magic (15-33) are still in the losing column, and that doesn’t sit well with Oladipo when assessing his performance at this early stage of his career.
“‘A’ being the best, [I’d grade myself] maybe a ‘D’ or a ‘C,’” Oladipo told Basketball Insiders. “You’ve got to win. That’s a big thing. I just feel like if I continue to keep getting better, sky’s the limit. I can get to an ‘A+.’ I think the big involvement in that is winning and being a huge part of that. I think when I do that, I’ll get to the ‘A+’ that I’m looking for.”
Though only 22, Oladipo feels a sense of accountability for the Magic’s results. The shooting guard ranks first on the team in steals, second in assists and third in scoring. Over the last 10 games, he is averaging 21.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals. Oladipo looks to himself after losses and said he feels like he has to play well in order for the Magic to win.
“You have nights when you don’t shoot well, you don’t think you played up to your abilities,” Oladipo said. “But again, it’s all part of the process. As a competitor, I feel like I shouldn’t have those nights. That’s just how I feel. It’s rough, but I’m only in my second year. I’m in a great position and I’m still learning. I’ve had some bumps and bruises, but I’m just going to keep working hard. I feel if I do that, then there will be a positive outcome.”
Putting pressure on himself while understanding the adjustment is an approach Oladipo began taking before the NBA. Unlike many other high draft picks, he was not named a McDonald’s All-American. He doesn’t consider himself to have been highly recruited, and he was only viewed as a three-star recruit coming out of high school. He went to Indiana University, where he played three seasons and graduated early. Oladipo succeeded because he set high expectations for himself and pushed to meet them.
“That’s how I’ve been all my life,” he said. “Before any of this, I was not in a great position. Coming up, it was hard. I was never the greatest player.”
When Oladipo is looking for motivation, he can turn to friend who is well known outside of the basketball world. Even though they have different professions, they are driven to succeed.
Oladipo met Wale when the rapper attended one of his college games. Both are Nigerian, both are from the Washington, D.C. area. They quickly clicked.
“In our culture, when you meet someone of the same background, he’s automatically like your brother. That’s like my big brother,” Oladipo said of Wale. “[The relationships within the Nigerian community] are very important because it’s like when one of us does something big, we all do something big.”
The friends, who give each other shout outs on social media, share a common passion for basketball as well. This season the Grammy-nominated, award-winning Wale was named the creative liaison for the Washington Wizards while also working on a new album.
“I think the biggest similarity between me and him is we want greatness,” Oladipo said of he and Wale. “We want to be great, but yet it seems like it’s a struggle. Sometimes you’re faced with adversity and it seems like you’ve worked so hard, but then you come up short. But at the end of the day, it’s part of the process and we can’t stop doing it. He’s given me a lot of advice on just keep working hard, it’s going to turn out for the better. I tell him the same thing. It’s good to have somebody so positive in your corner.”
Oladipo has his own set of criteria for greatness, mapped out in the beginning phase of his career.
“I don’t think anybody would be considered great without winning,” Oladipo said. “At the end of the day, I want to be great at this game. I was the number two pick, but I’m not really satisfied with that at all. I want to be successful in the league. I’m a competitor, I want to win. I want to be one of the greatest to ever play. I’m not just here to be here. I’ve just got to keep working hard. It’s rough because there are some bumps and bruises but my confidence can never waiver.”
He avoids complacency, appreciates the accolades but keeps his focus set on the bigger picture further down the road. Oladipo is a work in progress, a young player aware of the potential he is reaching to achieve.
“I think I’ve done okay,” Oladipo said. “I haven’t won yet so I wouldn’t consider myself doing pretty well until we start winning. That’s the whole key for me.”
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