- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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Victor Oladipo arrived at Indiana as part of the rebuilding process, a player with a ton of athleticism but who needed vast improvement in the nuance of basketball.
The potential was there, but Oladipo needed to hone it.
Indiana coach Tom Crean saw Oladipo’s desire from when he arrived in Bloomington, Ind. Now he’s seeing the results, too, as Oladipo has become one of the biggest impact players for the Hoosiers.
“My freshman year, it was kind of like I wanted to, but I wasn’t capable,” Oladipo told reporters recently. “I started growing my sophomore year and now my junior year, I have to bring it every night on both ends of the floor.”
It took one big matchup on a national stage against then-No. 1 Michigan -- and player-of-the-year candidate Trey Burke -- for Oladipo to reach the latest growth step: Consideration as one of the best players in the country.
Burke overtook Creighton’s Doug McDermott to take a slight lead in the third ESPN.com Player of the Year poll, but Oladipo made the biggest move. He entered the poll for the first time and sits in fourth place. His performance, especially defensively against Michigan, helped.
“He eats up space and keeps his hand out,” Burke said. “He moves his feet really well. He’s very athletic, so you really don’t have time to play around with him.”
Oladipo’s defensive ability goes back to his athleticism. On defense, it shows with his ability to shut down and close out opponents. On offense, it comes with his overall ability -- and was on display during a missed alley-oop dunk against the Wolverines when he caught the ball one-handed in the air and just missed finishing it off.
The 6-foot-5 junior from Upper Marlboro, Md., has affected the game on offense, where he averages 14 points, and on defense, where he averages 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals.
“He can guard two actions at one time, the screen and the man, and it is rare you see that. His recovery time, because of his lateral quickness, is exceptional,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “And there’s a lot of people who are very athletic like that, but they don’t want it like he does. He wants to be a good defender.
“That makes a big difference.”
Enough to put Oladipo in the race to be the country’s top player.
Tracking the contenders
Burke: Preseason -- T-11th; first regular-season poll -- 2nd; second regular-season poll -- 2nd; third regular-season poll -- 1st.
McDermott: Preseason -- 2nd, first regular-season poll -- 3rd, second regular-season poll -- 1st, third regular-season poll -- 2nd.
Plumlee: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- 1st; second regular-season poll -- 3rd; third regular-season poll -- 3rd.
Oladipo: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- NR; second regular-season poll -- NR; third regular-season poll -- 4th.
Zeller: Preseason -- 1st; first regular-season poll -- 4th; second regular-season poll -- 4th; third regular-season poll -- 5th.
A reminder: Players get three points for a first-place vote, two for a second-place vote and one for a third-place vote. Every voter is an actual voter for at least one of the Wooden, Naismith, Associated Press or Robertson awards. Voters have been granted anonymity to participate in this poll, which is conducted every two weeks.
For the fourth consecutive poll -- including the preseason -- there is a new leader. Cody Zeller led the preseason poll, Mason Plumlee the first regular-season poll, Doug McDermott the most recent poll and now Burke nudging ahead of McDermott in this edition.
While there is still time left for someone, perhaps Oladipo, to make a run, this appears to be shaping up as a good two-man race between McDermott and Burke.
Two obligatory notes: Polls were due at 5 p.m. Wednesday, before Wednesday night’s games. Also, as mentioned in the last poll, the poll is somewhat at the mercy of the pollsters and once again, voters from the Far West have not responded to our queries. Once again, we will try to figure out a way to get more people in the Far West involved.