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HARDEN YOURSELF AGAINST SUBORDINATES.
PUT NO FAITH IN A BROTHER.
HAVE NO FRIEND.
TRUST NO WOMAN.
--THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
First it was the son who lay prone on the varnished floor of an opponent's court, flattened by emotions that can attend the most important victories. It was the second Sunday in March, and Indiana had just beaten Michigan by a single point in Ann Arbor to win its first outright Big Ten regular-season title in 20 years. Hoosiers guard Victor Oladipo had punctuated a stunning junior season with 14 points, 13 rebounds and punishing defense on Michigan's Big Ten Player of the Year, Trey Burke, who made only seven of 20 shots and committed four turnovers. Now Oladipo rose to his feet and embraced Indiana head coach Tom Crean, who had first seen him play basketball on a dark winter morning in a high school gym outside Washington, D.C., six years ago, when Crean was the coach at Marquette and Oladipo was not yet anybody's big-time recruit. Tears formed in Oladipo's eyes—and Crean's, too—as they hugged.
Then it was the father who fought back tears as he watched a TV screen more than 500 miles away, in those same Washington suburbs. At least this is the story the father tells. "By the time I finished watching that game, you needed to give me CPR," says Chris Oladipo. "I must have cried 10 times watching that game. When Victor plays, you could take my heartbeat anywhere in my body." The father immediately sent a text message to the son, congratulating him on his victory and his performance. This, too, is the story the father tells, although the foggy veracity of his words becomes part of the son's story.
It has been a remarkable season for Victor Oladipo, once considered a marginal prospect for teams at the highest level of college basketball and, through most of his first two years at Indiana, a solid player with as many holes in his game as strengths. He was dynamic and confident but incomplete—a better singer, his friends will attest, than shooter. (At least twice he has performed Usher's "U Got It Bad" for large audiences in Bloomington, including at the season-opening Hoosier Hysteria in October 2011; meanwhile, in his first two years he made only 18 of 74 three-point attempts and as a sophomore shot 52.3% on two-pointers).
This year Oladipo has leaped forward and become one of the best players in the country, complementing his explosive finishes and fierce defense with 64.2% two-point shooting and 44.3% on threes. On the eve of March Madness the 6' 5" Oladipo is the type of dangerous performer who could by the force of his passion and talent steer the wide-open NCAA tournament. At the same time, he has risen dozens of spots in the NBA draft, which he is likely to enter with a bachelor's degree in sport communication earned in three years. "Here is a guy who was just barely on [the NBA's] radar at the start of the year," says one league scout, "probably not even in the top 100 in the country. Now [he's] probably going to go in the lottery. It's very unusual to make a climb like that in one year."
Oladipo's rise has paralleled Indiana's return to the college basketball elite, a nearly decadelong climb that began in the stale fumes of Bob Knight's departure and suffered the indignity of multiple NCAA violations incurred in the two-season term (2006--08) of Kelvin Sampson. As a freshman Oladipo averaged 18 minutes a game for a team that went 3--15 in the Big Ten; as a sophomore he started 34 games as the Hoosiers stuck their heads above water, won two games in the NCAA tournament and fought eventual national champion Kentucky deep into a Sweet 16 matchup before losing. Through all of this Oladipo checked off the requisite Hoosier Hero boxes: unselfishness (according to kenpom.com, he averages 21.9% of Indiana's field goal attempts, third on the team); tenacious defense; a willingness to improve ("He's the poster child for athletic players who need to work on their whole game," says Indiana assistant and 13-year NBA veteran Calbert Cheaney); and palpable joy (which Oladipo expresses by strutting, flexing and otherwise emoting through the biggest games, causing fans to chant, "Oh-la-DEE-po! Oh-la-DEE-po!")