By Pat Forde, Yahoo! Sports
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The momentous days are all lined up ahead of Indiana guard Victor Oladipo.
There is the Sunday game at Michigan to decide who claims ownership of the Big Ten title, and perhaps who claims ownership of Big Ten and national Player of the Year honors between Oladipo and the Wolverines’ Trey Burke.
NCAA tournament Selection Sunday is a week later, where the Hoosiers will learn their path toward a potential national championship.
A Final Four appearance would come in early April, followed by a deadline later in the month to declare for the NBA draft or stay in school.
But the day most anticipated by Victor’s family of academic achievers is Saturday, May 4. That is his 21st birthday and also graduation day at Indiana. Victor is on course to receive his sport communication degree in just three years.
“My whole family is coming down for graduation,” he told Yahoo! Sports. “My cousins, uncles – my dad might even come. Who knows? We’ll see.”
His dad, a man with a PhD from Maryland, might come to college graduation?
“When the time comes, I’m going to invite him, see what he’ll do,” he said. “But there’s no guarantee.”
There never has been a guarantee with Chris Oladipo.
He has not been an absentee father in the more stereotypical sense. Chris and his wife, Joan, natives of Nigeria, raised Victor and daughters Kristine, Kendra and Victoria (Victor’s twin) together in suburban Washington, D.C. But when it comes to taking part in the moments that mean the most to his son, Chris Oladipo has been an apparition.
He has never been to one of Victor’s college games. He rarely went to any of his son’s games at DeMatha High School – and when he did go, he remained out of his son’s view. Chris attended Victor’s DeMatha graduation but left after a short time, Victor said.
The subject of his father clearly is a touchy one for Victor. Bring it up and the Upper Marlboro, Md., native starts looking around the room. Checks his phone. Talks in a softer voice and shorter sentences.
“He doesn’t like to show his face,” Victor said. “That’s just how he is.”
On the court, Victor at times seems unchained from the tyranny of gravity. He seems able to reach an ethereal plane, floating above the mortals below in clean and untroubled airspace.
But what goes up still must come down, even if it takes a while for No. 4 to land. And back on the ground, life’s complications and problems are still there – including a dad who doesn’t much care what kind of midair magic his son can perform.
“Him and his father have kind of a weird relationship,” said forward Christian Watford, Victor’s roommate.
Attempts by Yahoo! Sports to reach Chris Oladipo were unsuccessful. Joan said “I doubt very much” that Chris, who has been described by others as “antisocial,” would consent to an interview.
Victor grew up in a task-oriented household in which his parents – who moved to the United States together in 1985 – held divergent views on life outside academia. Chris has no use for an extracurricular frivolity like basketball. Joan, a registered nurse, loves it.
Chris once wanted to send Victor to China for a summer to learn martial arts and improve his self-discipline, even though it would mean missing key exposure on the AAU recruiting trail. Joan wouldn’t hear of it, and won that argument.
“He is more the academic side,” Joan Oladipo said. “I’m both, the academic and sports side. I’m trying to make sure our children are well-rounded. It’s important to be athletic and outgoing. You can’t just be a bookworm all the time.”
There may not be a more well-rounded player in college basketball than Victor Oladipo – whether his father appreciates it or not.
The first practice of the season at Indiana was a long one. It started with a live look-in on ESPN, then got down to high-intensity, high-volume business after the cameras shut off and the on-air talent went home. It lasted more than three hours.
Still, that wasn’t enough for some. Several of the No. 1-ranked Hoosiers stuck around to get up extra shots on the side goals in Assembly Hall – Jordan Hulls on one goal, Cody Zeller and Will Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell on others, each with a manager to shag rebounds for them. This was the culture of commitment Tom Crean had created, and as the coach chatted with visitors on the sideline you could see his delight in the diligence.
One by one, the sweat-soaked players finished their shooting and walked to the locker room. Finally, about 30 minutes after formal practice ended, there were just two balls bouncing in the gym.
Victor Oladipo was dribbling them both.
He pounded one with each hand, in unison, zig-zagging downcourt. Three dribbles to the left. Then three dribbles right. Back to the left, back to the right. He never looked at them, keeping his vision fixed straight ahead, working to improve an essential fundamental.
This is how Victor evolved from a raw role player on a 20-loss team as a freshman to a national Player of the Year candidate on a title contender as a junior. Not through a magical transformation, but one solitary dribble and shot and drill at a time. He may be the most athletically gifted player in college basketball, but that gift pales in comparison to the depth of his work ethic.
On a team full of extra-effort guys, Victor is usually the last one in the gym.
“It’s mind-boggling,” Crean said. “He never takes a day off, literally. He has made this his life’s calling on the court.”
Victor inherited his drive in a household that rarely rested. Chris and Joan Oladipo worked multiple jobs when their kids were growing up, and today Joan works the third shift at Baltimore-Washington Medical Center – 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. They were devout Catholics, with Victor and his mom both serving as cantors at Mass. At home the children handled their chores without complaint, having heard the stories of deprivation their parents endured in Nigeria.
Chris walked about a mile each way to school as a child, Victor said. He had jobs at a young age, and left Nigeria early on to further his education. When he returned with his doctorate, he married Joan and they decided to move to the U.S. to start a family.
And it was the couple’s only son who married an unspoiled African zeal for work with an American pastime. The result is a player who has pushed himself to become a potential Top 10 pick, and a role model worth nationwide admiration and attention.[n an ideal world, his own father would show him some of that admiration and attention. His own father would care about the amazing things he can do on a basketball court.
“He’s not going to come out here and watch me play,” Victor said, matter-of-factly, no rancor in his voice. “I’m used to it now. It’s been that way pretty much since I started playing when I was five.”
Forty-five minutes after Indiana’s three-hour-plus practice had ended, the last visitor left the gym. The sound of Victor dribbling could still be heard on the way out the door.