Victor Oladipo and Tom Crean slowly walked to midcourt at Assembly Hall together on Tuesday afternoon, sharing a few words before addressing the waiting media.
The usually ebullient Oladipo had a serious demeanor as coach Crean talked about what Oladipo had meant to Indiana University’s basketball program.
Then it was Oladipo’s turn, to make it official.
“I will be growing and going on and entering the NBA Draft,” he said.
Oladipo’s decision wasn’t entirely unexpected. He entered the season as an NBA prospect but raised his stock dramatically with a year that saw him win several individual awards.
He was the Sporting News National Player of the Year, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Co-Defensive Player of the Year with Kansas’ Jeff Withey.
He also earned first-team All-America honors from The Associated Press, NABC and the Sporting News and was named to the Wooden All-America team and All-Big Ten first team. And he was a finalist for the Wooden Award and the Oscar Robertson Trophy.
Oladipo averaged a career-high 13.6 points per game this season, shooting almost 60 percent from the field (182 of 304), including 44.1 percent (30 of 68) from 3-point range. He averaged 6.3 rebounds and had an IU season-record 78 steals. He finished with 161 career steals, third all-time at Indiana.
But for all the numbers and accolades, it was his academic achievement that helped seal Oladipo’s decision to forego his senior season.
“I graduate on May 4 on my birthday and I’m looking forward to that more than anything,” said Oladipo, who will turn 21 that day. “That’s truly an accomplishment. In my family that’s big, education. So for me to actually accomplish that is a blessing.”
Oladipo will graduate in three years with a degree in sport communication-broadcast. But he’ll make millions of dollars in the NBA.
Crean said every indication was that Oladipo would be a lottery pick in the June NBA Draft.
“That’s too good to pass up,” Crean said.
With Cody Zeller expected to leave early as well — he has a press conference scheduled for today — the Hoosiers will have to replace four starters, including the graduating Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls.
But the early departures also help IU find roster spots for six incoming freshmen. The Hoosiers will still be one scholarship over the limit, though, if all six freshmen qualify. IU will have 14 players on scholarship unless someone else leaves.
While Oladipo said he didn’t make a decision until IU’s season ended — “I was hearing stuff, but I was focused on Indiana” — Crean said he knew a year ago that Oladipo was good enough to leave early.
“That’s one of the reasons we oversigned,” Crean said. “We don’t talk about it publicly.”
Oladipo has yet to sign with an agent and will work out at Indiana until he graduates.
Oladipo is the first IU player to go pro early since Eric Gordon left after his freshman year in 2008. He acknowledged that such a thing would have seemed impossible when he was at DeMatha High School in Upper Marlboro, Md., where he would have been “the last pick” if one were to say who on his team would be headed to the NBA.
But times have changed.
“It’s a dream come true, but it’s become a goal,” Oladipo said. “To actually achieve my goal is an amazing feeling. I’ve just got to keep working.”