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Indiana guard Victor Oladipo's 'weird relationship' with father gets more complicated

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.

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Hoosiers coach Tom Crean with guard Victor Oladipo. (USA TODAY Sports)

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?

Victor shrugged.

"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.

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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.

Another reason for Chris Oladipo's reticence to be interviewed could be a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him and his employer, the Prince Georges County, Md., Health Department, in January. According to D.C.-area media reports from February, Oreadea Treadwell alleges that Chris Oladipo – who was her boss – is a "sexual predator" who harassed her for nearly two years.

Treadwell filed a complaint against Oladipo in June 2010, according to Gazette.net. In July 2010, she sought and received a peace order against Oladipo. In 2012, a Human Relations Commission report supported Treadwell's claim.

However, Chris Oladipo remains employed by the agency, as does Treadwell in a different department. The county is seeking to have Treadwell's suit dismissed.

"We are aware of the situation and are supporting Victor through it," said Indiana spokesman J.D. Campbell. "We have no further comment."

The strained relationship between father and son predates the lawsuit by several years. 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.

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Victor Oladipo holds up the Big Ten championship trophy after Tuesday's game vs. Ohio State. (USA TODAY Sports …

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.

[More: Don't bury the Big East tournament yet]

In 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.


The trick, Kenny Johnson remembers, was getting someone to give the kid a ride home.

"They would only do it once," he said with a smile.

Johnson was one of the coaches for Triple Threat, an AAU outfit from D.C. Victor was on the Under-15 team, and nobody special at the time – maybe the 30th-best ninth grader in the metro area, by Johnson's recollection.

In addition to modest credentials, Victor came with a drawback – he lived so far away from urban D.C. that it could be up to a three-hour round-trip drive for whoever had to take him home. That's why nobody would volunteer to do it a second time.

So on weekends, when there were multiple practices or games, Victor would just stay with his coaches. And soak up everything. The kid was so eager and so likable that it was easy to overlook the inconvenience of where he lived.

"He was a sponge," said Johnson, who now is in his first year as an assistant at Indiana.

The athleticism came from his mom. Joan Oladipo played a game in Nigeria called "Netball," which she said is similar to basketball but without dribbling. She also was a talented high jumper.

"My nickname was 'Bird,' " she said.

Her son, a breathtaking leaper who has graced "SportsCenter" many times with spectacular dunks and blocked shots, can relate.

But for much of high school he was just another player at powerhouse DeMatha, and on a balanced AAU team. He was a three-star prospect getting a lot of interest from regional schools like George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth.

"There were no delusions of grandeur," Johnson said.

But Tom Crean, desperate for some athleticism as he tried to rebuild Indiana from the smoldering rubble left behind by Kelvin Sampson, saw a little Dwyane Wade in Victor. Crean coached Wade at Marquette, and he was struck by the similarities in size, leaping ability, quickness – and humility.

"When you coach a guy like Dwyane Wade, you're always looking for the next one," Crean said. "Then you realize they're not out there."

Still, Crean was eager for even Wade Ultra Lite. He signed Victor, hoping he would develop an all-around game to go with the startling athleticism.

Victor brought another key element with him to Bloomington when he enrolled: confidence. Despite being a moderate-level recruit, he never doubted his future stardom.

"Victor always handled himself as a Top 10 player in the country," said Indiana forward Will Sheehey, his roommate as a freshman. "He always had that confidence and knew he was one of the better players. It was just going to happen for him, because he put the work in, put the time in. He was never one of those players like, 'Oh, poor me.' He always said, 'I'm the best player out here.' "

It took a while for reality to catch up with self-perception. Victor was a defensive specialist and transition terror his first two seasons at Indiana, but also a shooting liability. He made just 18 of 74 3-point shots as a freshman and sophomore, a grim 24 percent.

But an explosive February of 2012 started to put him on more people's radar, and that success carried over into the offseason. It was time to increase the gym time even more to round out his game, and by late summer the effect was evident on Sheehey.

"We were playing a 3-on-3 game," he recalled. "I was guarding him, and I know his tendencies and what he can do and what he can't do. I was checking him and I couldn't guard him. That pissed me off. I was like, 'This guy is going to be really, really good this year.' "

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In a season that began with center Cody Zeller as the face of Indiana basketball, gracing the covers of magazines from coast to coast, Victor Oladipo has stolen the show. He has increased all his numbers over last year, from points (13.7) to rebounds (6) to assists (2.1) to steals (2.3). Most telling of his offseason work, his field-goal accuracy has soared to 67 percent from 2-point range and 49 percent from 3-point range. According to numbers guru Ken Pomeroy, he is second in the nation in effective field-goal percentage (68.5).

Thus it is Victor, not Zeller, who will appear on the regional Sports Illustrated cover previewing the NCAA tournament.

This turn of events does not surprise Joan Oladipo.

"I never had any doubt it was going to happen the way it did," she said. "He never gives up."


If Victor Oladipo is not in the gym, you can probably find him at the Academic Resource Center.

That's where athletes go to get tutoring and do some of their studying. Nobody puts in longer hours there than Victor. "He's a leader here for us with study tables," said academic adviser Marni Mooney, who Victor calls his "best friend" for all her guidance and support. "He sets the tone for the younger athletes."

Recently, the tone was set to the tune of more than five hours in the center in one day. Graduation day is approaching, and with all the class time Victor will miss in the coming weeks with postseason basketball, he wanted to get ahead.

"There's no limit with him," Mooney said. "Even if it's a 14-hour day, with basketball and studying, he's going to keep going until he gets his plan accomplished."

Said Watford: "Victor makes every class. He's on top of everything."

Despite the intensity of Victor's focus, he's hardly all work and no play. The personality definitely comes more from his mother's side more than his father's.

Victor sings everywhere he goes, teammates say. Slow-jam, R&B type stuff. And he has a knack for making a grand entrance.

"If he walks into a room, he wants everyone to look at him," Sheehey said. "But … he gives the same amount of attention to others that he does to himself. He tries to touch everyone's life. He takes time out of his day to go talk to little kids and do things I would never think about doing."

Attention has at times been missing in Victor's life. He has found ways to get it – and ways to give it back, to children who might be lacking it in their own homes.


In keeping with what has been a strange season in college basketball, the most spectacular play might have been a missed dunk.

It came Feb. 2 in Assembly Hall, Indiana against Michigan. Hulls threw a lob pass for Victor, and immediately regretted it as the pass appeared to sail too wide and too high to be touched.

"I instantly thought turnover," Hulls said that night.

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Indiana's Victor Oladipo dunks during the second half against Ohio State. (AP)

Victor thought otherwise. He somehow stretched backward as he leapt, getting a palm on the ball and tomahawking it at the hoop. It missed by inches, but the crowd erupted in disbelief at the startling display of aerial artistry.

Chris Oladipo was not watching back home. But Joan Oladipo was. And she was thoroughly entertained.

"It's awesome," she said of her son's sojourns through mid-air. "Sometimes I wonder, 'What is he doing up there?' "

What is he doing up there? What does it feel like to jump like that?

Victor thought about that for a moment, then allowed himself a small smile.

"Sometimes," he said, "it feels like I'm flying."

The reverie didn't last long before Focused Victor re-emerged.

"I've been doing it so much, it's kind of like second nature. I still can improve so much on my game in general," he said. "I feel like I have so much work to do, especially as the season is winding up. It's time for me to take my game to the next level, especially my leadership skills. We're trying to win it all, win all the games, and to do that I have to bring my edge, my energy, my toughness every game. If I don't do that, we're going to come up short."

He smiled again.

"But it does sometimes feel like I'm flying," he said.

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