Oladipo spends summer rehabbing and strengthening his mind

Victor Oladipo jokes with coach Nate McMillan during Pacers media day Friday.
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INDIANAPOLIS — Victor Oladipo spends most of his summers playing basketball and working on skills. Over the past few months, he’s been working on his mind.

The Indiana Pacers’ two-time All-Star believes it will make him a stronger player when he returns from a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee.

“Rehab is pretty strategic,” Oladipo said Friday at the team’s annual media day. “But the mind is another muscle that you need to work on and so that’s what I’m trying to do because that can help with the healing process and the overall process.”

While neither Oladipo nor team officials have established a target date for his return, president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said in June he was hopeful Oladipo could be playing again by December or January. Center Myles Turner, last season’s league champion in blocked shots, believes Oladipo could be back even sooner.

“I just know how Vic’s wired,” Turner said. “He’s been attacking the whole process. He’s already doing stuff on the court. I really have no idea, hopefully December or January.”

He won’t make the team’s preseason trip to India and coach Nate McMillan said he won’t be working out live with his teammates for “a while.”

Oladipo has been working on his shooting touch and strengthening his mind while rehabbing — and it’s pretty clear he’s back to being his old self. When he walked into Bankers Life Fieldhouse for photos, Oladipo screamed. And throughout the photo session he was clowning around and making teammates and coaches laugh.

“Eight o’clock, music blasting, singing and shooting,” McMillan said.

For now, that will have to suffice for Oladipo. But his teammates are already eager to get him back.

“It’s going to be awesome when he’s out there,” forward Domantas Sabonis said. “He brings a lot of energy and a lot of fun.”

STARTING FIVE

If the regular season started today, McMillan said his starting five would be Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb at guard, Sabonis and T.J. Warren at forward and Turner at center. That’s four new starters, with Sabonis being promoted from his previous role as one of the league’s most productive bench players.

It also gives the Pacers a more traditional look with the 6-foot-11 Turner in the middle and the 6-foot-11 Sabonis being asked to guard the perimeter more frequently.

“Finally,” Turner said. “I think Domantas and I have been talking about playing together for a long time now. We have some work to do in camp, but I’m looking forward to it.”

OLYMPIC THOUGHTS

Turner and Sabonis also recently returned from playing in the FIBA World Basketball Cup and could soon be looking toward the 2020 Olympics.

“Of course, no doubt in my mind,” Sabonis said despite acknowledging he’s still trying to get his body adapted back to American time.

As for the preseason game in India, the travel-weary Sabonis said he would opt out if he could.

Turner said the World Cup forced him to play a more physical style, which he believes could help him here. And Turner and Sabonis aren’t the only Pacers interested in heading to Tokyo next summer.

“I’m not sure if I’d be able to play, but I definitely want to play for my country, no question about it,” said first-round pick Goga Bitadze.

NEW FACES

After spending the past two seasons with essentially the same cast, Oladipo, Turner and Sabonis welcomed nine new faces to the locker room including Brogdon, who was acquired in a summer trade. The Pacers expect big things from Brogdon, who averaged 15.6 points and 3.2 assists last season with Milwaukee. But they also believe Lamb, Warren and the Holiday brothers, Aaron and Justin, can play key roles, too.

WHO’S THE BEST?

Oladipo made one thing clear Friday. With or without him, he believes the Pacers are the best team in the Eastern Conference.

“I thought that last year, I thought that the year before and that’s how I’ll feel for as long as I’m here — the rest of my career,” he said.