Cody Zeller on Oladipo in Indiana: ‘Vic’s found the perfect spot’

Cody Zeller played two seasons with Victor Oladipo at Indiana University — where those two constantly pushed one another. In the locker room, weight room, or on the court, there was always a challenge to be won.

They both left IU in 2013, Zeller after his sophomore season and Oladipo after his junior year. At the annual draft combine that year, they pushed one another in the individual drills before both ultimately were taken in the top five. Zeller was drafted fourth overall by Charlotte, and the Magic selected Oladipo second behind Anthony Bennett, who is out of the league.

Oladipo transformed his body, then his game this summer and it’s paying dividends for him and the Pacers.

“The sky’s the limit for him,” Zeller, 2011 Indiana Mr. Basketball, told after the Pacers’ 105-96 win Monday night.

“It was fun to see him to tonight. I hadn’t seen him since last year and the improvement that he made from last year to this year is incredible. It doesn’t surprise me at all, and he’s just going to continue to get better because he has that work ethic.

“He’s always had a constant motor. He’s always worked incredibly hard, you see it in his work ethic and everything that he brings to the team. His spirit and his love for the game is very contagious. That’s who he is.”

Oladipo at his introductory press conference. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

It had been noted several times by their college coach, Tom Crean, how they were at Cook Hall, the team’s practice facility, so often while at IU that they wore out their keycards.

“A little bit,” Zeller responded to whether there was any truth to that. “We definitely spent a lot of time in the gym. We made each other better because coach Crean kind of knew how competitive both of us were, plus Jordy [Jordan Hulls], Christian Watford and some of those guys. A lot of those times, they put Vic and I on opposite teams so we always competed against each other. It made for some competitive practices and I think we made each other better.

“I’m still close with all of those guys. We still talk quite a bit. We try to get together at least once in the summer as well. It’s a great group of guys.”

Oladipo spent much of the summer in Miami working out at least twice a day. In just three weeks time, he had made noticeable progress. Beyond changing his eating habits and workout regimen, Oladipo improved his mindset.

“It’s a big adjustment coming into the NBA and you learn how important it is to take care of your body,” said Zeller. “To feel good over 82 games is tough, but Vic’s had a great start to the year.”

Zeller, meanwhile, has been sidelined for the last 26 games after having arthroscopic surgery on Dec. 12 to address a torn medial meniscus in his left knee. Before his Hornets played in Indianapolis — about 110 miles northeast of his hometown, Washington, Indiana — head coach Steve Clifford shared that Zeller has been cleared for contact work. That’s progress.

Oladipo returned to Bloomington Sunday to be honored, but more importantly to speak with the IU team before the game and to sit courtside for their rivalry game against Purdue. He received a framed jersey, said a few words to the crowd, too. But mostly he soaked it all in and appreciated the fans as much — if not more — as they appreciated him.

And like we’ve seen with Lance Stephenson, fit is everything for a player. Immediately, the Pacers instilled belief in Oladipo and that meant everything.

“Vic’s found the perfect spot here,” Zeller said. “He gets to play, he has good guys around him. He’s comfortable here, he can play his game and plays very free as compared to the other couple spots that he’s been in where it wasn’t exactly the right fit for him.”

The Pacers face the Hornets for the second time in five days when they play Friday in Charlotte. On Thursday night, dinner is on Zeller.

“On him,” Oladipo said. “I paid last time.”

[Photo: Frank McGrath/PS&E]

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