WASHINGTON -- Around here, near his hometown in Maryland, people tell about the time Victor Oladipo was so filled with team spirit for the vaunted DeMatha High squad that he volunteered to come off the bench.
"I don't know if my exact wording was, 'I volunteer to come off the bench,' " he said yesterday before Indiana's practice for its NCAA East Regional Sweet 16 game against Syracuse tonight.
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"I kind of remember that our team was very good that year," he said. "We had a lot of people who could have a starting position and I remember coach [Mike] Jones calling me into his office and asking me how I felt about not starting. My response was, 'I just want to win basketball games.' Just like I want to now."
The difference is that nobody ever asks Oladipo to sit now. The junior guard/forward is arguably the best all-around player in the country. He is so good that stories about him are circulating like crazy, some of them maybe exaggerated. He is a clutch shooter, galvanizing dunker, relentless defender. And he's still a team player.
Indiana coach Tom Crean saw that the first time he met Oladipo, when the latter was a high school freshman at DeMatha in Hyattsville, Md., a suburb of Washington. "His intangible is his eye contact," Crean said. "This is somebody who looked his coaches in the eye and looked his teammates in the eye. I know that sounds like a simple thing, but in this day and age it's not. He stood out that he was aware."
Stony Brook guard Marcus Rouse, who was Oladipo's teammate back then, said, "Our coaches at DeMatha used to have us work out at 6 a.m. before classes. Victor was always there on time, ready to go full speed. He always was competitive, wanted to be first in all the drills. He was always in the gym, trying to dunk. It's funny now because these days he can jump out of the gym.
"You knew he had potential," Rouse said. "He wasn't satisfied. He wanted more."
What Oladipo isn't craving is more attention here, despite the fact he won city championships and AAU title games at Verizon Center, site of tonight's game. "I'm looking forward to playing with my teammates," he said, "and coming out and playing Indiana basketball at a high level."