Diogu's game begins with character

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» Wed Jul 06, 2005 11:23 am
July 6, 2005

Ike Diogu is special.

His parents, Edward and Jane, knew it the day he was born on Sept. 11, 1983. They stared at him lying in his hospital bed. So vibrant. So dark. So huge.

"He came out 11 pounds and 24 inches long," Edward said. "When we saw him lying down in that crib the first day, we thought we had a three-month-old baby."

Nearly 22 years later, Diogu has grown around 55 inches, put on about 240 pounds and proved to be as special as his parents predicted. The Warriors got a rare breed when they drafted him with the No. 9 pick in Tuesday's NBA draft. Diogu is as intellectual as he is talented, as polite as he is aggressive, as impressive off the court as he is on it.

"There's no one like him," said Phillip Sirois, Diogu's coach at Garland High School in Texas. "The mold has been broken."

The credit for Diogu's character goes to the faith-based, education-first rearing he received at home.

Edward and Jane emigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria to further their teaching careers. Ike was born in Buffalo, N.Y., during his father's doctorate studies at the University of Buffalo. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Garland, a suburban-town outside of Dallas.

Ike, brothers Eric and Eddie Jr. and sister Love were raised on three principles: 1) keep God first; 2) take education seriously; and 3) never do anything that would bring shame to the Diogu name.

"Don't let somebody else influence you," Edward said. "Always remember the name Diogu."

They were taught to think before speaking, share with others and respect their elders. Keeping abreast of political and world affairs was a must. Television watching, limited to two hours, wasn't allowed until homework and chores were completed.

"My parents are from Africa so I think they raised me a little bit differently," Diogu said. "There were a lot more things that I couldn't do than I could do. But it all benefited me in the end. I'm just really thankful to have parents like that."

Ike Diogu is humble.

During a post-game interview after a close loss at Arizona in January -- in which he totaled 23 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks -- Diogu explained how he heeded advice on attacking a zone, which the Wildcats used to try to stop him. A local reporter asked Diogu who specifically gave him the advice. Diogu would only say it was a friend of Arizona State coach Rob Evans.

It took some prodding before Diogu revealed the identity of Evans' friend. It was Charles Barkley.

Most 21-year-olds would tell whoever would listen they talked to Sir Charles. But Diogu isn't into name dropping, doesn't pop his own collar. He shuns spotlight and shares praise. Those who know him insist the wealth and prestige of NBA lifestyle will hardly be a challenge for his character.

"He's the most humble, grateful person that I've ever been around," Sirois said. "Nothing bothers him. Nothing fazes him. He is not at all enamored by glory and hype. It has no effect on him at all. His focus is incredible. It's something to behold, to tell you the truth."

Diogu wasn't fazed during the recruiting process. Big-name schools such as North Carolina, Kansas, Connecticut, Georgetown, Alabama and Seton Hall sought after him. But he wasn't too star-struck by Roy Williams or too awed by the Huskies' championship banners to be distracted from actively recruiting his new school.

Jane investigated thoroughly on each trip. Diogu tried to dig up dirt on his potential coaches. Their exhaustive examination and loyalty pointed them toward Evans, who was the first to recruit Diogu.

"He was researching everything," Evans said. "He researched me thoroughly. He understands the future better than most kids his age."

Ike Diogu is ferocious.

Washington guard Nate Robinson, now a New York Knick, said it best after his Huskies were nearly upset by the Sun Devils on Diogu's 31 points and 15 boards: "He's just a grown man playing college basketball. He's like a train going down hill. You just hope to slow him."

The fire in Diogu's game started developing in high school. He had a growth spurt after his sophomore season. He spent the summer in the gym working on his body and his game. By the time his junior season rolled around, Diogu was a man among boys. He wasn't allowed to be physical. Referees wouldn't let him throw his weight around.

One example of his enormity came in a playoff game against John Tyler in his junior year. He was in the corner and faked a jumper, causing three defenders to run out at him. So Diogu put the ball on the floor and drove for a dunk.

The three defenders tried desperately to thwart the slam. There was a collision at the rim. It wasn't even close.

"He splattered all three of them," said Sirois, noting that Diogu shot 77 percent from the field his senior season. "They didn't even call a foul. It was one of the greatest dunks I've ever seen. When he hit that dunk, we knew right then he was going to be a monster to stop."

It wasn't until he got to Arizona State that he was able to play all out all game -- an unfortunate phenomenon for Sun Devil opponents.

"I think he's a real competitor," said Warriors coach Mike Montgomery, who acknowledged he always double-teamed Diogu when he was coaching Stanford. "I think when he gets on the court, that good guy stuff goes away a little bit."

Now, it's as if Diogu's two different people. Off the court, he's mellow and funny. Sir or Ma'am is everyone's first name and the closest he gets to swearing is "heck."

On the court, he's all business, relentless. He plays like he's angry.

"Whether you call it anger or desire, emotion, that's how he plays; that's what he does," said Chris Mullin, the Warriors executive vice president of basketball operations. "When you play like that with talent, you get things done. He's always gotten things done on the court. And he'll get better."

Diogu's mother said he's always been passionate. He gets it from her. He puts his all in everything he does, dedicates his entire focus and energy.

One of his math teachers used to have a contest in class. Each student would get a worksheet with several math problems and they had a minute to solve as many as they could. The student that completed the most won.

"When he lost he would come home mad," Jane said. "He would talk and talk about it. He couldn't wait for the next one. I'll tell you, whenever he lost, the next time he didn't lose."

Ike Diogu is diligent.

That was evident during a practice between road games at Stanford and Cal in January. Coach Evans stopped practice and told the team to take a water break. The players scurried to the nearest liquids. Not Diogu.

Still a bit frustrated about going 13-for-22 from the line the previous two games, well below his usual 80 percent clip, Diogu took a ball and walked to the free-throw line. While his teammates quenched their thirst, he quenched his crave for perfection.

Probably what makes Diogu so productive on the court is his combination of talent and determination. He enhances his domineering size and array of skills with a willingness to put in the work.

"Ike is going to be very, very committed," Evans said. "It's very simple. That's the way his work ethic is."

There is a wealth of stories of him going the extra mile. There are plenty tales of him staying in the gym for hours on end. There are endless anecdotes of his addiction to game film.

For example, Evans has this rule for his program. Every day his players must check in with him at the office. There's a sign-in sheet for proof.

Diogu announced on June 21 that he was staying in the NBA draft. Guess whose name was on the sign-in sheet on June 27, the day before the draft? Evans said Diogu never missed a day in his three years in Tempe, Ariz.

The Warriors are already a team of boy scouts. They have one of the most down-to-earth rosters in the league, highlighted by perennial nice guy Derek Fisher and politically savvy Adonal Foyle. Now they're adding a good Samaritan.

"He's remarkable," Sirois said. "It's pretty amazing."

Ike Diogu is a catch.

"My daughter is married," Evans said. "If I had a daughter (available), he's the type of guy I'd want for her."

Nah, man. A catch for the Warriors.

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