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He also created arguably the most spectacular moment of the regular season. Late in a tight home game against Michigan on Feb. 2, Oladipo reached far behind to gather an errant fast-break lob pass from Jordan Hulls and, while floating toward the goal, attempted to carry the ball all the way into a dunk, resulting in a carom off the rim that bounded high into the air. The audacity of the attempt was scarcely diminished by the miss.
Hoosiers screenwriter Angelo Pizzo, 65, was born in Bloomington and returned in 2005 after three decades in Southern California. His passion for Indiana basketball runs so deep that he skipped the 1987 Academy Awards (at which Hoosiers had been nominated for two Oscars) to watch Indiana win the NCAA title over Syracuse. Now he visits practice occasionally and feels the pulse of the fan base. "We've had great players here," says Pizzo, "but I can't remember such a great athlete who also never takes a play off and whose charisma is so electric that it affects all the other players and the fans. Victor wants to win, and he will sacrifice individual glory for the team, and that quality is so much appreciated in Indiana."
Oladipo's is a story of talent discovered late, nurtured and grown. And of a coach who once found true greatness (Crean recruited Dwyane Wade to Marquette 14 years ago) and has never stopped looking for it again. "It was Coach Crean who gave me my opportunity," says Oladipo. "He gave me the chance to get better."
And it is more than that too, because sports is a culture of family. Of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, parents and children. Of loving homes and broken homes, of caring and neglect. We are a culture that connects the past to the present and tries to find the unbroken line that explains success through support or toughness or, when there is little support, perseverance. For Oladipo that line meanders through a childhood lived in the warm and lively embrace of his mother and three sisters, distant from a father who has been there, yet not, and whose interpretation of love is different from most others.
It starts far away. Victor Oladipo has often been described as the child of Nigerian parents, but only his mother was born in Nigeria. Chris Oladipo will not state his age, but according to public records he is either 61, 63 or 64. He says he was born in the West African nation of Sierra Leone, raised in the rural community of Blama (population 8,146) and educated in the city of Freetown at Albert Academy, a secondary school whose motto is Rather to be than to seem, which Chris says is central to his own life philosophy. Chris says that he came to the U.S. when he was in his teens and earned bachelor's and master's degrees and a Ph.D. in behavioral science at Maryland.
After earning the Ph.D. he took a job that often required travel to Nigeria. It was on a trip to Lagos, then the Nigerian capital, that Chris says he met his future wife, Joan Amanze. The two were engaged and, in 1985, moved to the U.S., where they were married. They lived for a time with Chris's two brothers before moving out in '86 and settling in Upper Marlboro, Md., in '89. They had four children: Kristine, now 27 and a graduate of Temple, with plans to attend dental school; Kendra, a 22-year-old senior at Gallaudet, a university for the hearing-impaired in Washington, D.C.; Victor and his twin, Victoria, a junior at Maryland.
When the children were young, Joan did not work outside the home. Chris often held two jobs. "I would go to work, I would come home; I would go to church, I would come home," he says. The children were enrolled in Catholic schools, often far from home. Victor attended St. Jerome Academy, an elementary and middle school in Hyattsville, Md. His parents switched off on the task of driving the children 45 minutes or more through the countryside and clogged suburban arteries near the nation's capital, a cacophony of small voices filling the vehicle.
Victor first joined a basketball team, the Green team, in kindergarten. He was excluded from his friend's Purple team, which got many of the best players. This was Victor's first athletic slight. "My team won the whole thing," he says. "The next year they put me on the Purple team." As he progressed through St. Jerome's CYO program, he was befriended by Nigel Munson, the point guard at nearby DeMatha Catholic High School, who would come by St. Jerome and play Victor one-on-one, whetting the latter's appetite to play for DeMatha "and to wear their blazers and bucks," Victor says.
DeMatha coach Mike Jones, who had played at the school under storied coach Morgan Wootten, first saw Victor in an eighth-grade CYO playoff game. "Victor stood out," says Jones. "He didn't score a whole lot of points, but he was always talking, always clapping, always around the ball." These are recurring themes in Victor's development.
He enrolled at DeMatha, played on the freshman team and made the varsity as a sophomore. According to Jones, Victor's first two varsity baskets were throwdowns, both in a November game against Coolidge High. "First time he was on the floor, he just took off ahead of the field and dunked," says Jones. "Nobody expected that." It was that year, Crean's last at Marquette, that the coach first went to watch Victor in one of DeMatha's optional 6 a.m. practices, which the sophomore seldom missed. "I'd guess he was maybe 6' 1" or 6' 2" at the time," says Crean. "You could see that he had this incredible athleticism and burst of speed and leaping ability, and you could see his relentlessness on defense, because he knew he wasn't going to get on the court at a high level unless he defended at a high level."