What can the #2 pick of the NBA draft teach us about the growth mindset?

Victor Oladipo was the 2nd pick in the NBA draft last week. Until the week before, he probably was never told he could be taken that high in the draft and most likely, that's why it happened.

Oladipo went to DeMatha Catholic High School where I teach but I never had him in class. Everything I have heard and experienced about Victor though, shows he has a growth mindset.

A year ago there was no mention of Oladipo being one of the top picks in the draft. This was not a new scenario for him. He was not highly recruited out of DeMatha and choose to go to Indiana, a school with an incredible basketball reputation but coming off records of 6-25 and 10-21 the two prior seasons. He also did not make DeMatha's varsity team as a freshman but would sweep the floor after freshman practices to prepare the gym for the varsity team he did not make. As a junior on a varsity team full of future NCAA talent, he volunteered to come off the bench to give the seniors their opportunity to start. 

Even now, doubters are saying that he does not deserve to be taken that high in the draft because part of his game is not good enough for the NBA. When asked by an interviewer what he would say to these doubters he didn't hesitate in his response. "I'd say 'Thank you. Thank you.'," responded Oladipo. "They motivate me to go out there and work harder." 

Carol Dweck states in mindset that research shows that those with a fixed mindset, when faced with setbacks, tend to lay blame and find excuses. Those with the growth mindset take the setbacks as a challenge to work even harder to improve. Oladipo had plenty of chances for excuses along the way but turned them into opportunities to improve. He left college a year early but even that was not excuse to end school early, he got his degree in three years.

About a month before the draft Oladipo was honored at a small ceremony at DeMatha. Coaches, teammates, classmates, family, and friends were there for him. After the ceremony most people gathered in the Alumni lounge for conversation and munchies. Oladipo went to the weight room and gym and worked out for 90 minutes.

In interview after interview, when asked what he planned to do after a particular moment of success, Oladipo often responded that he was going to work hard to get better. This seems to be the goal of the growth mindset - to get better. It is something that is in our control, whether it be athletics, academics, or the arts and it is in comparison to only one thing - ourself. The goal is simple: to improve.

Oftentimes we choose to ignore the hard work it takes for someone to reach a certain level of success. It gives us an excuse not to work as hard because their achievements were reached only because they had been "born special" in some way. Oladipo never assumed he was special and therefore, continually had a goal.

As a senior, when virtually no one was looking, I saw him stop to help a freshman who had dropped some of his books while rushing down the stairs to get to his next class. A little help and a few calming words and the freshman was hurriedly back on his way. He stated that he hoped by going to Indiana he could help bring it back to national prominence. This year, they were ranked #1 in the nation for part of the season. All five of the players who started ahead of him when he was a junior, play for a college team today. 

If we make ourselves better then those around us can and often do  get better. But these examples from Oladipo show that the growth mindset goes beyond improving ourselves to those around us in more than an inadvertent way. 

In other words, does the growth mindset lead us to act in ways that purposefully help others? I'd like to think that it is a side-effect of a mentality that growth is possible, not just within ourselves, but everywhere.


  1. Nice commentary, Tom. I will certainly keep the notion of a "growth mindset" in mind as I teach this year and try to encourage my students to do so in the classroom. They could benefit from Victor's example.


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