Diogu Learning on the Job

No matter how big of a college basketball star you are, and few came bigger last year than Ike Diogu, going to the NBA usually translates to starting from ground zero. A pre-season hand injury to the ex-Sun Devil great reiterated that fact even more. However, the Golden State Warriors' forward has been able to adjust relatively well, and he told Devils Digest in this exclusive interview how he has been able to handle the transformation to the pro level.

(Note: this interview was conducted prior to Diogu's career high 27-point performance against the Detroit Pistons on 12/23.)

The 6-8 255 Ike Diogu was drafted by the Golden State Warriors with the ninth overall pick. His playing time, and ultimately production has greatly varied in his rookie year. Nonetheless, he's pleased with his progress thus far. "I'm felling pretty good," he said. "I'm learning each and every game. I'm making mistakes, but I feel that I'm also getting better every game. My injury (which forced him to miss 13 games) was a little of a setback, because it does derail my progress a little. I wasn't able to be out and there playing, and it's hard to get better when you're not playing and learning from your mistakes. But at the same time, you do learn some things sitting on the bench."

The former Arizona State star can't put his finger on one specific attribute that he does need to improve on at this point of his career. He does however notice one big difference between the college game and the NBA one. "I need to work on knowing when to help your teammates in certain situations on defense," Diogu stated. "The NBA game is just so different than college. It's really a team game at this level, and you have to have your teammates' back."

Otherwise, the pro game is exactly what the Warriors' first -year player expected. "Nothing really caught me off-guard," he claimed. "The game is a lot faster, the players are a lot bigger and better, and you can't take any nights off. You're going against the best players in the world, and you have to be ready every night."

Among the many adjustments Diogu had to undergo, was coming off the bench and not being cemented in the starting lineup as he was in his ASU days. Nevertheless, he dismisses the notion that this new role may be one that is hard to overcome. "It's not tough at all," he said. "A lot of great players in this league come off the bench. I come off the bench, do what I have to do, and I don't feel pressure. I think I've done a good job coming off the bench. Starting isn't a big deal here, like it was in high school and college. Yeah, it would be fun to tell your friends that you're starting on an NBA team, but you're not worried about it too much."

Playing in Tempe, it was only natural that Diogu would follow the local Phoenix Suns. His first visit to America West Arena this season was non-eventful, as he was still nursing an injury. Earlier this month he did get to play against the Suns and some players he has grown very familiar with. "It was cool playing against guys like Eddie House and Shawn Marion, who used to come down and play with us in the summer time," he remarked. "They were all happy to see me on an NBA team. It was real neat playing against Eddie. He's a tremendous player, and I don't know if a guy like that will ever come through Arizona State again. He was just an unbelievable player for the Sun Devils."

Off the court Diogu is still amazed at how much free time he has, especially compared to college. In his spare time he watches, what else, a lot of NBA and college basketball, as well as playing video games. "I'm not looking bad really on the NBA 2006 game," he said. "My overall rating is a 72. They didn't do me any justice on my shooting (smile), but overall they did a pretty good job."

At one time, he was the only millionaire living at the Towers dorms in Tempe. Now that he's living in house, does he yearn for the good ‘ol dorm living? "Nah, I don't miss the Towers," he said laughing. "The Towers weren't the best of places, but it was good at the time. I definitely stepped up from there. Now, I just have a regular average house like anyone else. I'm a simple guy and I don't get caught up with all that fancy stuff, so I don't have a lot of toys and gadgets around."

It has been well documented how deeply Diogu cherishes his days at Arizona State University and his frequent visits back to Tempe the last few months are evidence of that. But when asked if he misses the academics aspect of his former university, he sounds like any other typical young man recently removed from his college days. "Like very student, you sometimes reach that point where you say ‘man, I'm so tired of school.' But being in college isn't that bad," he explained. "Some days I miss it, and sometimes I'm sure happy I don't have class to go to. But in the summer I'm gonna go back to ASU and get my degree. I'll have to take two summer sessions the next two years to get that done."

Every young player in the NBA enjoys the help of a mentor, and Diogu feels fortunate to have one such individual on the Warriors in Calbert Cheaney. "I talk to him a lot and he helps me out," he commented. " He shows me how to be a professional, tells me about all the little things and the tricks of the trade in this game." At ASU Diogu was more of a low-post player, but doesn't feel like a fish out of water with the often frantic offensive pace of his new team. "The Warriors' style of play suits me," he claimed. "We do like to get out and run, but there's times we do play a half-court offense. In the half court I get to post down low, so that's nice."

In the beginning of the 2005-06 NBA season, the Golden State Warriors were tabbed as one of the up and coming forces in the NBA's Western Conference. They started the season on a torrid pace, sporting a 12-5 record at one time, but have cooled off since and currently have a record of 14-13. "It's a lot of fun being here and being part of a transformation of a team," said Diogu. "We haven't made the playoffs in a real long time, and that's one goal we have. I don't feel any pressure being part of a good team. I come off the bench, and I just go out and play hard."

The dream Diogu had to play in the NBA has materialized. Yet, he knows that now that he has achieved this feat it will be a challenge to keep this status. "I definitely feel blessed being in this position," he admitted, "but at the same time you have to realize that this is your job and you have to do what it takes because you have a lot of people fighting for your job. It's a hard reality, and you have to make sure that you stay on top of your stuff."

With a career-high 27 points the other night, suffice to say that Ike Diogu isn't slacking even one bit. The NBA game may be night and day compared to the college level, but Diogu's talents are likely to shine just the same as they did with the Sun Devils. (Thanks to Big E for assisting with the questions for this article)

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