“You better fix that,” DeMatha Catholic basketball coach Mike Jones said Monday morning in the school's gymnasium. Jones, while sifting through a large pile of summer basketball camp applications, was talking to Victor Oladipo, who was toying with a basketball at the scorers table.
It wasn't Oladipo's jump shot that Jones was demanding be fixed. That jump shot has been the bridge from Oladipo, the kid with the indelible and raw athletic ability, to Oladipo, the NCAA Player of the Year candidate. What Jones was speaking about was Oladipo's claim that it had been quite some time since Jones beat his old pupil in a game of H-O-R-S-E.
“I got you at Indiana,” said Oladipo, who was twirling the ball around his back. “And that was quick.”
And then, before Jones could hit him with a comeback, Oladipo was back to work, going through shooting drills with Team Takeover coach Keith Stevens.
To watch Oladipo at DeMatha is to realize two rather astonishing things. The first being that the sure-fire lottery pick at tonight's National Basketball Association Draft in Brooklyn, N.Y., spent the most critical offseason of his career working out at his old high school, not at the Verizon Center, at Indiana or in some world class gym with other world class athletes. Of all the notable Stags' alumni who turned pro — from Keith Bogans to Kenny Carr to Adrian Dantley — Oladipo, according to the best of Jones' memory, is the only one to host his workouts at the Hyattsville private school.
“This is my home, you know?” said Oladipo, who grew up in Upper Marlboro. “This is where I'm comfortable. You just go back to where you're comfortable, what got you to where you're at and it just makes you come in and work hard. I love coming home. DeMatha is a great place to be.”
The second and more astonishing thing about Oladipo is that the former Indiana standout is prepping for the NBA Draft at all. Not to knock on the 6-foot-4-inch shooting guard, but he didn't even start for his high school team — albeit, one incredibly loaded high school team. He accepted his only high-profile college scholarship offer, and served primarily as a role player and robust defender during his first two years as a Hoosier.
But then the world was introduced to Oladipo the basketball player. Suddenly he began shooting at a 44 percent clip from 3-point shot land (a 24 percent improvement) and making 60 percent of his overall shots from the field. The 7-foot-0 big man that he was typically charged with setting up, Cody Zeller, long considered the top prospect in the nation, was no longer even the top prospect donning the cream and crimson.
“It's cool man,” Oladipo said. “I'm really not even supposed to be here. I'm the last person to think I'd be in the position that I'm in. It's just hard work, staying in the gym, working hard.”
What's so special and endearing about Oladipo is not his athletic ability and talents, but his ability to stay humble. Oladipo volunteered to come off the bench in high school.
There wasn't a single passing visitor who came through DeMatha's doors Monday morning who didn't receive a warm greeting from the future millionaire. Anybody he didn't know or recognize, he walked up to and introduced himself.
“The people I surround myself with, reminding me every day that I'm blessed with an opportunity and I can't take advantage of it,” Oladipo said. “So I should be confident and humble as well. I know it all can be taken away from me in an instant so you can't really be cocky about it.”
Of course, as can sometimes happen with athletes such as Oladipo, whose ascension came so rapidly in the college basketball scene, there have been cases where myth has preceded reality. Raheem Shobowale, also a coach at Team Takeover, said that when Oladipo traveled to Cleveland to work out with the Cavaliers alongside Ben McLemore and a few others last week, McLemore refused to work out with Oladipo because Oladipo was simply too big and too physical.
“That's just not true,” Jones said, shaking his head. And Oladipo would confirm it to be false as well.
What is true, however, is that tonight, Oladipo's name will most likely be called, and he will slip on a jersey and a hat of an NBA team. As to what happens in Brooklyn, Jones cares very little where Oladipo goes, whether McLemore is picked before him or after him, whether he will be playing in Phoenix or Minnesota or wherever it may be — either way, there is no greater achievement.
“He epitomizes what we hoped for all our guys,” Jones said. “You're just proud of that. You're proud of a player who goes on to be a dad, have a child and be a great father. You're proud of a player who goes to college, gets his degree, and becomes a doctor. This is obviously one of the more visible walks down a career path and you're just proud of that.”