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Indiana’s Victor Oladipo builds himself into top NBA prospect

At his press conference in April announcing his decision to leave Indiana after three years and enter the NBA draft, Victor Oladipo got caught between two ideas.

In the spirit of LeBron James’ 2010 “Decision,” Oladipo almost said he’d be taking his talents to the NBA. He caught himself, though, and announced his departure more befitting of the narrative that has surrounded the shooting guard for the past year.

“It’s been an honor to play here at Indiana, to grow as a human being, as a man and as a basketball player,” said Oladipo, sitting to left of his coach Tom Crean. “But I will be taking my…you know, I’ll be growing and going on and entering the NBA draft.”

He became an instant lottery pick with the announcement, and Thursday night, an unpredictable 2013 NBA draft could land him with the Charlotte Bobcats at the No. 4 pick.

With pre-draft measurements at 6-foot-4, 213 pounds, Oladipo is considered one of the top two shooting guards in this year’s class, along with Kansas’ Ben McLemore. His rise from little-known freshman with a rebuilding Hoosiers team to star on the nation’s No. 1 team for a good portion of this past season had everything to do with his offseason training a year ago.

He substantially increased his shooting accuracy from his sophomore to his junior season, going from a 47 percent clip to a Big Ten-best 59.9 percent from the field and from 20.8 percent from the 3-point arc to 44.1 percent. Oladipo also increased his steals, assists and blocks per game while tallying 13.6 points per game last season.

“He has a great work ethic,” Cody Zeller, who played two seasons with Oladipo at Indiana, said last week at a Bobcats tryout. “He improved in so many different areas just because of how hard he worked. It’s the same thing that’s going to carry him a long way. He’s just going to keep on improving and be a good pro.”

Zeller, another potential target for Charlotte at No. 4, entered this past season as the face of Indiana basketball. A program that was wrecked by NCAA violations under Kelvin Sampson in the mid-2000s had been resurrected by Crean. The Hoosiers began the season ranked No. 1, and Zeller was one vote short of a unanimous preseason All-America selection.

But as the year went on, Oladipo stole the spotlight with his explosiveness. His 42-inch vertical helped draw comparisons to one of Crean’s former players at Marquette, Dwyane Wade. His stifling defense also helped him win National Co-Defensive Player of the Year.

“It was really neat to see all his hard work pay off,” Zeller said. “It was great for the team. I think we both helped each other because of how competitive we both are. Whether it was in the weight room or conditioning or in practice every day, we made each other better.”

Oladipo reportedly worked out for the Cavaliers (No. 1 pick) and the Suns (No. 5), but he did not make the trip to Charlotte. Despite multiple requests, Oladipo’s agent did not make him available for this story.

Oladipo, who grew up just west of Washington, D.C., in Upper Marlboro, Md., also reportedly declined to work out with the Wizards – who hold the No. 3 pick. But he gave the team the option of watching him work out at nearby DeMatha High School.

“It would be interesting because they already have John Wall and Bradley Beal,” Oladipo told the Washington Post, referring to Washington’s two guards, “but I feel like if I land there, I can make an impact in whatever area they want to, and just help the team win.”

The Bobcats already have a starting shooting guard in Gerald Henderson, who, despite being a restricted free agent this offseason, has indicated he would “absolutely” prefer to re-sign with the Bobcats.

Though Charlotte needs rebounding and low-post scoring, general manager Rich Cho has said you draft for talent and trade for need.

And if the dynamic Oladipo is atop the Bobcats’ board when the fourth pick rolls around Thursday night ...

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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