By ANDREW SELIGMAN
AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO — Victor Oladipo mentions the late nights at the gym, the wear and tear on his key card, and he’s quick to point out he’s just a tad unusual, too.
The Indiana product is also just a few weeks away from realizing a dream.
The NBA draft is next month and Olapido figures to be one of the top picks after he helped lead the Hoosiers back to national prominence.
“It’s surreal sometimes,” he said.
It’s also the product of all those hours at the gym honing his shot and developing into something more than a defensive stopper.
He spent so much time there he wore out his key card. Now, he’s in for a big payoff.
“I’ll be honest with you, I’m a weird dude,” he said Friday at the NBA draft combine. “At Indiana, we’d just finish watching a playoff game … a late game, West Coast.”
That didn’t stop Oladipo from going to the gym afterward. He swiped his key card so much it stopped working.
Not Oladipo, though.
With his infectious demeanor and relentless drive, he helped the Hoosiers go from winning 12 games as a freshman in 2010-11 to making back-to-back appearances in the regional semifinals. Indiana came into the past season ranked No. 1 for the first time since 1979 and spent more time at the top of the poll than any other team, with Oladipo and likely lottery pick Cody Zeller leading the way.
Oladipo was a bit overlooked when he arrived at Indiana from high school power DeMatha in Hyattsville, Md. But he dazzled with his athleticism and defense and improved in each of his three seasons in Bloomington.
He was a first-team, All-American this past season after finishing second on the team in scoring (13.6), tying for second on the team in rebounds (6.3) and earning Big Ten defensive player of the honors.
He left jaws dropping with a spectacular game-sealing 360-degree dunk against Illinois in the Big Ten tournament, and he saw his shooting percentage rocket from 47.1 percent as a sophomore to 59.9 percent this past season. He made a huge leap from long distance, hitting 44.1 percent of his 3-pointers after converting just 20.8 percent the previous year.
Now, he’s poised to make the biggest jump of all — to the NBA.
“I’m looking forward to the journey,” he said. “It’s a new chapter in my life. … I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be fun. At the same time, you’ve got to grind. It’s a business. You’ve got to be serious about it.”
Whether they were trying to solidify spots at the top or move up, the combine gave prospects a chance to boost their stock. They’ll have more opportunities when they visit teams in the coming weeks, and UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad hopes to take advantage.
A key piece of fired coach Ben Howland’s recruiting class, he was widely viewed as a potential No. 1 pick but didn’t quite live up to that billing. The 6-foot-6 guard had a decent season, averaging 17.9 points while leading the Bruins to the Pac-12 regular-season title but he’s expected to go later in the lottery.
One issue was he arrived in Westwood under the cloud of an NCAA investigation. He had to sit out the first three games and repay $1,600 in impermissible benefits after the school and the governing body discovered he accepted travel and lodging during three unofficial visits to Duke and North Carolina.
It also came out in March that he was 20 years old, not 19 as UCLA had said he was. That didn’t help, but Muhammad seemed relieved to get a chance to talk to teams and repair his reputation.
“I think a lot of teams were surprised by my interviews, how nice and well-spoken I am as a player and as a person,” he said. “I’m a guy who wants to learn, learn from veterans who I’m playing with.”