As Orlando Magic scouts and front-office executives prepared for the 2013 NBA Draft, they asked countless questions about the top prospects. Team officials contacted high-school coaches, college coaches, strength-and-conditioning specialists — anyone, basically, who could offer insight. Even Magic CEO Alex Martins interviewed potential draftees when they visited Orlando before draft day.
Team officials soon learned something intriguing about Victor Oladipo, the guard from Indiana University. Although Oladipo possessed plenty of self-confidence, he also seemed eager to learn from other people.
Less than one week into Oladipo's first professional training camp, the Magic's first impressions about his curiosity and humility seem spot-on. Oladipo has welcomed advice from his new teammates, and he also has sought guidance from at least two players with All-Star résumés, Kevin Durant and Tracy McGrady.
"I'm just being a sponge," Oladipo said. "Call me 'SpongeBob.' I'm just out here trying to soak up a little bit of everything."
Oladipo understands the challenges ahead of him.
The grind of an NBA season and the tougher competition can humble almost any rookie, but he'll face some tougher tests. Many experts have labeled him as the most likely candidate to win the 2013-14 Rookie of the Year award. Meanwhile, the Magic will ask him to play point guard, a brand-new position, in addition to his customary spot on the wing.
The challenges and scrutiny will intensify in the next week as the team transitions from intrasquad scrimmages on their private practice court to exhibition games in large arenas. On Wednesday, the Magic will play their preseason opener against the New Orleans Pelicans in Jacksonville. On Friday, Orlando will host the Cleveland Cavaliers at Amway Center.
"I've pretty much already told him there's always going to be ups and downs," said Jameer Nelson, the Magic's starting point guard.
"Just try to stay in the middle. That's the most important thing. You can't get too high or too low. You're going to win some games, and you're going to lose some games. He's a good enough player to understand what he's doing right and what he's doing wrong. I'll just be there to help him out if he needs it."
Nelson and Oladipo have matched up against each other in at least some training-camp practices, but they seem to have meshed well together off the court.
After Nelson returned to Orlando late in the offseason, he was working out in the team's weight room when he learned that Oladipo was in the locker room next door. Nelson asked someone to bring Oladipo over, and Nelson has served as a resource to the prized rookie ever since.
Oladipo, 21, joined a franchise where he should feel at home.
Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb, E'Twaun Moore, Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O'Quinn and Nik Vucevic range in age from 20 to 24 years old, and the lessons from their rookie seasons remain fresh in their minds.
Each one of them can remember a humbling moment.
For O'Quinn, it arrived on Nov. 7, 2012, in the fourth quarter of a lopsided loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. O'Quinn had pored over the scouting report and had listened to coach Jacque Vaughn's instructions. Then something went wrong.
"As soon as I got on the court, it was like I drew a blank," recalled O'Quinn, adding that he was benched within a couple of minutes.
The youngsters should provide a support system for Oladipo.
Vucevic said Oladipo should "just keep playing his game."
"You can't come here and try to do so many [things] to impress people and do stuff that you don't really do well," Vucevic said. "You're here for a reason and everybody knows what your strengths are. So just keep doing that, play hard and one thing that's important is to work hard in practice. Come early. Leave late. It's just the way you should be. It's not really a secret. Listen to the vets."
Durant also might help from time to time.
Durant, a former NBA scoring champ who plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder, grew up in suburban Washington, D.C., just like Oladipo.
They have something else in common: Durant was the second overall pick in the draft, just like Oladipo.
In recent weeks, Oladipo asked Durant for advice. Oladipo wouldn't say what, exactly, Durant told him. But Durant can relate to the high expectations Oladipo will face.
So can McGrady. Oladipo met the former Magic superstar in the Orlando area a few days ago.
McGrady advised him to keep working hard.
Oladipo also has spoken with former Magic player Bo Outlaw, who played 15 seasons in the league. Oladipo said Outlaw provided some of the best advice. Outlaw told him "to have fun."
"A lot of people have been telling me it goes by fast," Oladipo said.
"Talking to vets like Bo Outlaw and players in the league now, they say it goes by really fast. So you have to enjoy it, because if you don't enjoy it, you could become miserable. I'm just looking to have fun and enjoy it. I've been dreaming about this all my life."
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