Even if the worst projections came to pass for Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller on Thursday night, the Indiana All-Americans were still going to make history.
No one saw Oladipo falling much further past the No. 5 spot where the Phoenix Suns were expected to jump on him, and no one suspected that the Philadelphia 76ers would pass on Zeller if he were available at No. 11. That would have been enough to give Indiana two lottery picks in one draft for the first time in the lottery era, which began in 1985.
But the 76ers never got a chance to consider Zeller and both players were gone before the Suns picked at No. 5. After UNLV’s Anthony Bennett went first to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Oladipo was taken immediately after by the Magic at No. 2. Zeller followed two picks later at No. 4, making them the first two Hoosiers ever to be taken in the top five of the NBA Draft. The closest an Indiana duo came was in 1976 when Scott May was taken second by the Chicago Bulls and Quinn Buckner went No. 7 to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Oladipo was the highest Indiana player taken since 1981 when Isiah Thomas went No. 2 overall to the Detroit Pistons. His selection served as another landmark in his meteoric rise. The unheralded recruit was ranked as the No. 144 player in the Class of 2010 and wasn’t even an all-conference player in the 2011-12 season, but his stock skyrocketed this season and he was named a first-team All-American as well as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
“I’m just gonna come in and help the program,” Oladipo told ESPN as soon as he was picked. I’m gonna come in and help impact the program in a positive way on both ends of the floor. I’m gonna come in. I’m gonna work my butt off. I’m gonna bring the work ethic that they’ve probably never seen before, because I want it that bad. I’m gonna help that program get back to where it needs to be and that’s getting wins.”
Oladipo was barely on the draft radar at all, but the 6-foot-4, 213-pounder continued to display his jaw-dropping athleticism — he posted a 42-inch maximum vertical leap at the NBA Draft Combine at Chicago in May — while polishing an offensive game that was extremely raw when he arrived at Indiana and becoming arguably the best perimeter defender in college basketball. He averaged 13.6 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game while shooting 59.9 percent from the field and leading the Big Ten with 2.2 steals per game.
“Victor’s been a guy we’ve followed all year long,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan told ESPN after Oladipo was taken. “Our scouting staff did an excellent job of identifying him early as somebody who could be a possible fit. We just really like what he’s about. We like his work ethic. We like his ability to impact both ends of the floor, and we like that he plays efficient basketball, which is always a good thing. We’re excited.”
The Magic are coming off a 20-62 season under coach Jacque Vaughn.
The Bobcats, meanwhile, were 21-61 this season and in need of help inside. The 7-foot Zeller was a first-team All-Big Ten pick this season and an All-American. He led the Hoosiers with 16.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game while shooting 56.2 percent from the field. He was projected by many to be the overall No. 1 pick before the season and appeared to have fallen below the Top 10, but worked his way back up with exceptional workouts and a strong NBA Draft Combine to help Oladipo make history, giving the Hoosiers two picks in the top four for the first time ever.
“It says a lot about our coaching staff,” Zeller said when interviewed on ESPN. “It says a lot about the hard work we’ve put in. I think Indiana’s going to be good for a long time.”