CHICAGO – Victor Oladipo and Tom Crean were seemingly made to be with each other. Mostly because there was a time, not that long ago, when very few outside of their own families was showing support for the two.
When Oladipo committed to play basketball for the Indiana coach in September 2009, Crean had just guided the Hoosiers to their worst season in nearly a century (Indiana's six victories in 2008-09 tied the win total of 1916). The heralded – and highly paid - coach, who was to restore greatness to the iconic program, had delivered few signs of hope to the Hoosier Nation.
However, Oladipo believed in the coach and the program, which was ironic, because a lot of “experts” didn't show much faith in Oladipo at the time either. So Crean and Oladipo needed each other during a trying time for both.
“We believed in what coach Crean had to offer,” Oladipo said of the blind faith that his teammates shared. “We believed in his strategies and that's what made us so successful.”
During Oladipo's senior season at DeMatha High School in Maryland, in which 143 other players in his class across the country were rated higher in ability, the Hoosiers improved, ever so slightly to 10 victories, and even with Oladipo, Crean's guys weren't a whole lot better (12 wins in 2010-11).
But when the Hoosiers secured “the big fella,” as Oladipo referred to teammate Cody Zeller, it all turned around and Indiana returned to its glory days (56 wins in the past two seasons). However, the 6-foot-4 guard said rebuilding a program of Indiana's stature involved a lot more than just getting Zeller, himself and other talented athletes to play in Bloomington.
“It takes not only great players, but great coaches,” Oladipo said. “It takes great fan support. And just having faith.”
Oladipo and Zeller are both in Chicago this week taking part in the NBA Draft Combine and it will surprise no one if both are lottery picks in next month's draft.
Being chosen that high will certainly be a special evening for Oladipo and his family. However, it might not reach the level of personal satisfaction in what he and others in the Hoosier program have already achieved.
“I think about that every day,” Oladipo said of the Hoosiers' success. “We came a long way. I've come a long way as an individual and as a player, as well. I'm just glad that I could be even a part of bring Indiana basketball back. Indiana basketball is bigger than one person. For me to actually be a part of that is truly a blessing.”