Victor Oladipo had an idea of what to expect when he and Orlando Magic teammate Tobias Harris joined USA Basketball’s select team.
Oladipo knew the select team’s job was to help the national team prepare for the upcoming FIBA World Cup, and he also understood just how good national team standouts Kevin Durant, Paul George and Anthony Davis are.
But over three recent days in a Las Vegas gym, Oladipo learned something else: just how passionate and focused USA Basketball practices are.
“I’m going to take a little bit of what I learned and I’m just going to apply it to my everyday life,” Oladipo said after he returned to Orlando on Thursday. “I think the biggest thing was just the intensity everybody played with. It was amazing, and I could definitely learn from that.
“Going up against the best in the world every day, for three days straight, was crazy. It definitely helped me realize where I was at and what I need to work on and what I need to get better at. And it gave me a little bit of confidence as well. I’m just going to try to carry it over to the team, and I’m looking forward to bringing the same intensity that was there every day to the Orlando Magic as well.”
Oladipo’s and Harris’ stints with the select team arrived at a beneficial time for them and the Magic.
Now that Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo are no longer on the team, Oladipo, Harris and center Nik Vucevic will be expected to take on more obvious leadership roles on and off the court.
If Oladipo, Harris and Vucevic improve, the team will improve, too.
If the trio regresses, the team will regress, too.
The 6-foot-4 Oladipo had a promising rookie year last season. Although he played point guard for the first time in his life, he averaged 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game and performed well on the defensive end of the court.
Off the court, he often deferred to Nelson and Afflalo.
Although the Magic have added veterans Channing Frye, Ben Gordon, Willie Green and Luke Ridnour this offseason, it seems obvious that Oladipo is now a primary face of the franchise, if not the primary face.
“I feel like God wouldn’t put me in a position that I couldn’t handle,” Oladipo said. “Being a leader for this team is going to be hard. It’s not going to be easy. But I feel like I’m capable of doing it. It’s going to be a process. It’s going to take time. It’s something I’m willing to learn and willing to grow at, so I’m just going to continue to keep getting better at it.”
During his time in Las Vegas, Oladipo and Harris had the chance to see several natural leaders up-close, including Durant and Derrick Rose.
Oladipo, 22, has a long way to go to reach Durant’s and Rose’s level — something Oladipo says outright — but his USA Basketball experience left him more determined.
“Every day, waking up and going to the gym and playing against those guys was just a blessing,” Oladipo said. “Being able to be recognized by some really good players in our league and the Hall of Fame coaches that were there — it was all just a blessing. It was an honor and a privilege to be there.
“I’ve got to continue to get better. I’ve got a long way to go in order to reach greatness. I’m just going to continue to keep getting better and keep grinding.”
Harris and Frye, who are first cousins, have been burning up their cell phone minutes and text-message allotments talking about the upcoming season as Magic teammates.
“I’m really excited,” Harris said. “Channing, he’s a guy that’s going to help us out a ton. He brings his shooting ability. . . . We’re excited. We’ve been talking a lot, texting a lot. It’s going to be something real special.”
At 31 years old, Frye is nine years older than Harris, and Harris always has looked up to Frye.
But Frye downplays his influence on Harris.
“I’ll be honest,” Frye said. “He works harder than I do — and I work hard.”
Now, as teammates for the first time, Frye will have a more direct influence on Harris.
“I was already telling him how I can help him score, how I can help him with the longevity in this league and just the little things,” Frye added. “I think he has the skills. He has the talent. And he has the body for basketball and he has the mindset. But I think he just needs to be around one person that’s going to explain what he needs to look at, how he needs to read it and how he can be an elite scorer.”
Magic power forward Andrew Nicholson is being a world traveler this summer. He already is in the midst of an 11-game trip through Europe with Team Canada. But he’ll also visit China on behalf of the NBA, a league official said. Nicholson is scheduled to leave in late August and return in early September and visit Shanghai and Xi’an. . . . Magic fans won’t have to wait long to see Jameer Nelson again. Nelson’s new team, the Dallas Mavericks, will play a preseason game at Amway Center in October. Dwight Howard’s Houston Rockets also will play a preseason game in Orlando. . . . The NBA has announced it will add its twitter handle, @NBA, to its official Spalding ball. The @NBA handle will appear below the words “OFFICIAL GAME BALL.” . . . The San Antonio Spurs’ Coyote apparently was voted as the NBA’s mascot of the year by its fellow mascots. Benny the Bull must’ve been left off the ballot by accident. . . . Oladipo was excited to meet USA Basketball’s national team coach Mike Krzyzewski during Oladipo’s recent USA Basketball select team stint in Las Vegas. “I’ve always wanted to meet him, and this was my first time meeting him,” Oladipo said. “You could just tell he knows what he’s talking about. It was an honor and a privilege to get to talk to him for a little bit and pick his brain.”
Josh Robbins covers the Orlando Magic and the NBA for the Orlando Sentinel. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/JoshuaBRobbins. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.