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Sports Column

Oladipo returns tonight

Posted

It’s time.

On Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Victor Oladipo will make his long and much anticipated return to the court for the Indiana Pacers. 

No more suits on the sidelines. No more questions about timelines. It’s time for Indiana’s star to get back to where he belongs — wearing that jersey, and playing in his city.

“It’s been a long 12 months, a long journey,” Oladipo said. “But I’ve learned a lot about myself and I’m going to continue to keep growing because of it. I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing in front of you fans again and playing with my teammates.”

Nobody could have dreamed the Pacers would be in this position (30-17) in Oladipo’s absence. But here they are right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference, while getting their leader back for the stretch run.

It’s hard to put into words just how much Victor Oladipo means to this state and this team. You’ll hear it in the ovation he receives on Wednesday night. 

Oladipo was ranked just 144th in the nation in his class when committing to IU in 2010. He instantly became a fan-favorite with his work ethic, infectious smile, and competitive nature. He exploded his junior season and went from No. 144 in his class to the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft. While his career was going okay, the whole world thought the combination of Oladipo and Sabonis was too light of a return for former Pacers star Paul George. Those guys had other plans. It’s not just about Oladipo’s play. It’s who Oladipo is.  he fact that he helped the Pacers stay on the map (and then some) after the dark cloud of PG’s departure says even more his importance.

In his two seasons as a Pacer, Oladipo has averaged 21.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 2.1 steals per game. He was named an All-Star in both 2018 and 2019 and won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award for the 2017-18 season. He’s had several game-winning shots. He went toe-to-toe with LeBron James in the playoffs (and might’ve beat him if a goal-tend was correctly called). And maybe most importantly, he has helped to create a culture of winning and team chemistry in that locker room.

So will the Pacers be getting the All-Star version of Oladipo? Time will tell. But there’s two important things to remember-

• This team may not need him to do too much.

• If it takes him a while but he regains form by the playoffs? That’s a win.

Ideally, Oladipo gives the Pacers another shooter, another defender, another leader, and another guy who can make big shots down the stretch. That’s a huge addition to this group, even if he’s not close to his original form. But knowing Victor Oladipo, I wouldn’t put anything past him. He may return to form sooner than anyone thinks.

“I’ve gotten stronger mentally, I believe, and I can’t wait to test it in an NBA game,” Oladipo said last month.

“Certain moments I’m starting to feel like my old self, but it’s a process. A peaceful, positive, patient process. That’s all I’m focused on.”

Bankers Life Fieldhouse will be rocking on Wednesday night.  Victor Oladipo – the stage is yours

Tyler Smith covers the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Hoosier basketball for Indy Sports Legends. Smith is also the youth pastor at New Hope Christian Church, and the varsity girls’ basketball coach at Crawfordsville High School.

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