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Best of the Decade: The case for Victor Oladipo

This week, the Hoosier Network is taking a look back at the best Indiana athletes of the decade. We surveyed current and former beat writers, along with others in the IU Athletics sphere, to see who they believe the best of the best are.

The final rankings will be published Friday, and leading up to that we’ll have guest columns from voters where they make a case for certain athletes. Today, Inside Indiana beat writer and HN Coordinating Editor Alex McCarthy writes about Victor Oladipo.

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In this Best of the Decade series this week, you’ll hear IU beat writers describe the unbelievable moments they witnessed from the best Hoosiers of the decade. You’ll read about towering home runs, record-breaking touchdown runs, and an Olympic finger wag that nearly reignited the Cold War.

Well, I’m here to write about a missed dunk.

You know the one. No. 1 Michigan. No. 3 Indiana. College Gameday. A Jordan Hulls pass that was off the mark.

You might have been there in Assembly Hall that February night, and might have turned to your friend and said something like, “Can you imagine?”

Almost everything Victor Oladipo did that season was unimaginable.

During his freshman year at IU (which also happened to be my freshman year), there was no way you could look at the often-out-of-control Oladipo and predict he’d be one of the best players in the country in two years.

Victor Oladipo dunks against Kentucky in Indiana’s win over the Wildcats in December 2011. (Courtesy photo/AJ Mast, Icon SMI)

But that’s just what happened his junior season. First-Team All-American. NABC Co-Defensive Player of the Year (the first IU player to ever earn that). Sporting News named him the national player of the year, for what that’s worth.

He shot 59.9 percent from the floor to lead the conference, which was also the fourth-highest percentage in school history. He spent most of the season shooting around 50 percent from beyond the arc, and finished with a 44.1 percent mark. For reference, he shot 47.1 percent from the floor and 20.8 percent from distance as a sophomore.

OK, enough with the numbers. Oladipo didn’t become arguably the most beloved IU athlete of the decade because of his 3-point shooting. It was the penchant for drama. It was the flexing. It was the singing. I can still hear him singing “Bad Boys” in the press room after IU’s drubbing of North Carolina early in his junior season.

More than anything, it was the meteoric rise and the fact that we all got to watch him go from a crazy athlete into an incredible basketball player.

A friend of mine was in class with Oladipo (History of Indiana High School Basketball, if I remember correctly) when a freshman Oladipo said he wanted to play in the NBA one day. My friend laughed. So did I. Years later, as Oladipo was earning an NBA all-star nod, that same friend and I pulled up Oladipo highlights on YouTube and reminisced.

And damn, there are so many Oladipo highlights. So many that you might have forgotten some of them, including the oft-forgotten one that stands out in my mind: The spinning, over-the-head dunk to finish off IU’s cathartic win over NC State his sophomore year.

His junior year, there seemed to be an Oladipo moment every game. There was the time he inbounded the ball off Matt Costello’s back and dunked. There was this ludicrous steal and spinning layup against Butler. There was the three against Temple in the NCAA Tournament. There was the 360 dunk against Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament.

And yes, there was the almost-dunk against Michigan. The essential Oladipo moment at Indiana. I’ve seen that ball slam against the rim dozens of times, but I swear one of these times it’s going to go in.

I remember right where I was sitting covering that game, behind the band. When the ball clanged off the rim, I was one of the thousands of people who exclaimed and turned to the person next to them and said something like, “What if that had gone in?”

Victor Oladipo shoots against Michigan in March 2013. (Courtesy photo/AJ Mast, Icon SMI)

I’m not sure what would have happened. Maybe Assembly Hall would have crumbled. Maybe they would have canceled the rest of the season, because nothing else would have topped that. There’s no way of knowing.

That’s the power Oladipo had when he was at IU. His peak was so exhilarating, so logic-defying, so straight-up outrageous, that it united everyone in the IU basketball world as witnesses to something we all knew we’d talk about for the rest of our lives.

So yes, I know there were more accomplished athletes at Indiana this decade than Oladipo. Heck, you could make convincing arguments that Cody Zeller or Yogi Ferrell deserve to be higher on the list than him. But they didn’t have the peak that Oladaipo had, and you’re crazy if you say there was a more exciting person to watch at Indiana this decade than Victor Oladipo.

Previous Best of the Decade columns

Tevin Coleman, by Mike Miller

Andrew Gutman, by Josh Eastern

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