BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Indiana junior Victor Oladipo is heading to the NBA. Cody Zeller could be next.
Oladipo made his announcement official Tuesday at a news conference inside Assembly Hall. He is the Hoosiers' first underclassmen to leave school early since Eric Gordon and D.J. White departed after the 2007-08 season. Zeller's announcement is expected later this week, possibly Wednesday.
Losing Oladipo was no surprise to those inside the Indiana program who watched the 6-foot-5 guard mature from talented freshmen into a refined star. NBA scouts have been so impressed with Oladipo's progression that many mock drafts now project him to be taken among the top six picks.
With Oladipo expected to graduate May 4, his 21st birthday, and coach Tom Crean collecting information that Oladipo would be a certain lottery pick, it was too much too turn down. Crean said the two would start looking into potential agents soon.
"I swayed back and forth especially throughout the season, but I felt this was best for my family," Oladipo said softly, explaining how difficult the choice was. "Coming here and graduating in three years, I feel like I'm prepared for it. So I feel like it's the best thing for me."
What the NBA will get in Oladipo is a workaholic.
The once overlooked recruit has improved each season in Bloomington, dazzling the nation this season with his athleticism and defense. He was a first-team All-American after finishing second on the Hoosiers in scoring (13.6), tying for second on the team in rebounds (6.3) and earning Big Ten defensive player of the honors. He can play above the rim, too, as evidenced when Oladipo delivered a spectacular game-sealing 360-degree dunk against Illinois in the Big Ten tournament. This past season, he shot 59.9 percent from the field, 44.1 percent on 3-pointers -- both up from his sophomore numbers of 47.1 and 20.8.
But that's only part of Oladipo's game.
"He's still not satisfied being an NBA player or a draft pick, so he's going to continue to work hard," said Mike Jones, Oladipo's high school coach at national power Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha. "He's the same person today that I coached in high school."
If scouts had any doubts regarding Oladipo's plans, all they had to do was walk into Assembly Hall before the news conference.
There, a sweaty Oladipo was dressed in his crimson practice jersey for yet another individual workout with some of his soon-to-be ex-teammates at Indiana. The group included forwards Will Sheehey and Hanner Mosquera-Perea and point guard Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell, three players who will try to fill the void left by Oladipo's absence.
It won't be easy.
Oladipo's infectious personality and relentless drive were two big reasons the Hoosiers went from 12 wins in Oladipo's freshman season, 2010-11, to making back-to-back appearances in the regional semifinals. Indiana came into the 2012-13 season ranked No. 1 for the first time since 1979 and stayed there longer than any other team this season.
But he just couldn't pass up the opportunity to become one of the highest-drafted players to ever come out of DeMatha. Other alums include Danny Ferry, the No. 2 pick in the 1989 draft; Adrian Dantley, who went sixth overall in 1976; and Kenny Carr, who went No. 6 in 1977.
"If you take me back to when I was playing for DeMatha and you asked who would have been in the position I am today, I guarantee you I would have been the last one picked," Oladipo said. "Whenever I say he (Crean) believed in me when nobody else did, I really mean it. Coach Crean was the most consistent and most persistent (recruiter), and I just saw it as a sign from God that I needed to be wearing the candy stripes. I've become a great man because of it and I'm becoming a great basketball player because of it."
Oladipo may not be the only underclassmen Indiana has to replace next season.
Zeller, the 7-foot sophomore center, led Indiana in scoring (16.3) and rebounding (8.1) and was considered a top-three pick for most of the season. Many believe that Zeller, Indiana's 2011 Mr. Basketball and a three-time state champ, will try to join his older brothers, Tyler and Luke, in the NBA next season.
Crean didn't discuss Zeller's decision Tuesday. Oladipo and Zeller did talk about it over the last week, though.
"We talked about it a little bit, I have no idea what he decided because Cody, as you know, is pretty quiet anyway," Oladipo said. "I just wished the best for him and wished him the best of luck."
If Zeller also leaves, Crean would be replacing four starters -- Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, Oladipo and Zeller -- next season.
Crean signed six players during the fall despite having only three graduating seniors. Oladipo's decision will clear another spot and if Zeller leaves early, that would create a fifth opening.
For the first time publicly, Crean acknowledged Tuesday that they were preparing all along for the likelihood of more than one player leaving early for the NBA this spring.
"That's one of the reasons we oversigned. There's no question," he said. "Was that a given? Absolutely not."
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