Victor Oladipo is a game-changing, dominating, national player of the year candidate for No. 1-ranked Indiana.
But he's more than that: Oladipo is representative of what this Hoosiers team (24-3, 12-2 in the Big Ten) has become.
From Oladipo's arrival at Indiana to now, the Hoosiers have completed such an incredible turnaround that it's almost hard to recognize this potential NCAA tournament champion -- which faces the Gophers at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Williams Arena -- as the same program that won just three Big Ten games two years ago, when Oladipo was a freshman.
But it comes as a surprise only to those who haven't been paying attention to the clock's internal gears: Indiana's renewed culture of hard work that has become a defining characteristic in part because of players like Oladipo setting a standard. The team's intensity has picked up -- not just from the outside, where the attention for Indiana has swelled, but on the inside, where the feeling of the program is noticeably different, said Oladipo, a 6-5, 214-pound junior guard.
Many players stay long after drills are over, creating shooting competitions along with Oladipo to keep their labor interesting and add the element of pressure.
"It's changed a lot," Oladipo said. "I was here when it was pretty rough, you know? Indiana getting back to basketball dominance is a great feeling. It's great for our fans, it's great for our program. The energy is great."
The work ethic and never-ending energy that fueled Oladipo's ascent -- he bumped his scoring average from 10.8 points per game last year to 14.0 now and is shooting nearly 64 percent from the field, a mark almost unheard of for a guard -- was one of the reasons Indiana coach Tom Crean originally targeted Oladipo at DeMatha High School in Maryland.
In those days, Oladipo traveled an hour and a half to and from school. But he still found a way to post an impressive GPA while being named first-team all-conference. That's dedication.
"But until you get with a person on a day-to-day basis, you really don't know to what level," Crean said.
At Indiana, which had just completed its Cook Hall practice facility when Oladipo arrived in 2010, the gym rat quickly found a new home, staying for hours after practices. Last summer, Oladipo never left the university, often working out, lifting and shooting for at least six hours a day in between summer courses, he said.
"Since the first summer that he got to Indiana along with Will Sheehey, they have absolutely worn out their key cards on Cook Hall," Crean said. "We could have had practice and weights and film, and he's still going to find a way to be back out in the gym."
The extra time has paid dividends. The junior has consistently taken over games and elicited wide-ranging compliments (ESPN's Dick Vitale even compared him to Michael Jordan). Against No. 9 Michigan State a week ago, Oladipo went off for 19 points, nine rebounds and five steals as he led his squad to a 72-68 road victory.
Oladipo's rise is especially impressive considering he started it in the shadow of Cody Zeller -- last year's Big Ten freshman of the year, a preseason favorite for national player of the year and a main reason the Hoosiers entered the season ranked No. 1.
But Oladipo doesn't view it that way, even if he is a huge reason Indiana could finish No. 1. He doesn't measure himself against Zeller, a 7-footer having another very good season (16.6 points, 8.1 rebounds). He doesn't search for parallels between himself and NBA guard Dwyane Wade, a former player of Crean's at Marquette with whom he's been often compared. He seems not to notice his dominance or his numbers, reacting with bashfulness or surprise when asked about them.
Instead, Oladipo's whatever-it-takes approach resembles that of his Nigerian-born parents, who both worked multiple jobs throughout his childhood but still found the time to support him in such a way that continues to strike Crean.
"My teammates matter to me, so I've got to keep getting better," Oladipo said. "Because when I do that, my team gets better. I've got to take criticism and give criticism. I've got to keep growing as a person and as a player and as a leader because it helps benefit my team."