Victor Oladipo’s best response to me came off-camera rather than on.
I closed our 1-on-1 interview with the line, “He was just one rebound off from a double-double tonight.” Oladipo immediately started giggling when the camera turned off. I asked, “Did you know that?” He said, “No. I guess I should have crashed the boards harder.”
It’s the kind of perfection a superstar has to have. “Magic” Johnson had it right when he said on ESPN at halftime that “Superstars win games on the road.” He just pegged Indiana’s wrong superstar Tuesday, referencing Cody Zeller. It was Oladipo who won that game for the Hoosiers. And he did it on 1 1/2 ankles. “Man, I’m not gonna lie, it hurt a little bit,” he said, referring to the left ankle he sprained over the weekend. “But I wanted to help my team win more than anything, so I can play through pain.”
The only obvious pain was the one he became to MSU. He scored Indiana’s final six points of the game, including the moment Tom Izzo told me was the one play he would like to have back, the tip-in with 43 seconds left in the game, which put Indiana ahead for good.
He was effective offensively, but he “affects” games defensively. The five steals was one way, the blocked shots another. The mere presence is a game-changer. That’s the side of the game, Oladipo said was a way he can change outcomes the most. “But just being a leader overall,” he added to me. “I feel like when I can do the things I can do (on defense) to help my team win, it helps my teammates’ confidence.”
I hate comparisons to players. But we all do it. I do it. And Tuesday night, Magic and Dick Vitale did it. They threw out Dwyane Wade, Michael Jordan-esque ideas. Oladipo has a long way to go to reach that kind of status, but he did equal them in one way: He willed his team to win Tuesday.
“It’s huge. It’s a big win for us,” he said. “We have come a long way. We’ve been through the fight, and we’ve been at the bottom. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. Now, we have done a good job in winning and doing what it takes to win on the road.”
It’s what superstars do.