Mixed Emotions for Diogu in NBA Homecoming

It was the second visit for former Sun Devil star Ike Diogu to the valley as a member of the Golden State Warriors. However, Thursday night did mark the first time the NBA rookie played against the Phoenix Suns at the U.S. Airways Center. The reception for the outgoing Pac-10 player of the year was warm, but the cold reality for him and his team was a fourth straight loss, as they fall to the Phoenix Suns 112-99. Diogu scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds in defeat.

Ike Diogu started the regular season on the injured list, due to a broken hand suffered in the pre-season. "That's crucial for a rookie player ," said Diogu who was leading the league in field goal percentage at 62.9% going into Thursday. "When you start feeling your way around and getting all your mistakes out, I was making them during the regular season when the games count and not in the pre-season."

Thru Thursday's night game, the ex-Sun Devil standout was averaging 8.1 ppg and 3.3 rpg. Diogu has been a starter for the last seven games and in that span he's averaging 10.2 ppg and 4.8 rpg. Coming off the bench or being in the starting five, doesn't faze the unflappable Diogu. "I still prepared for the game the same way," he commented, "and when the opportunity presented itself to play I was ready. It really was no adjustment for me. I was always preparing even when I wasn't playing. So when I did start playing nothing came as a shock to me." He added that he never set a goal for himself to be starting during his rookie year

Much like his days at Arizona State, Diogu who stands at 6-8 255, had the play the role of an undersized center - a task naturally more challenging than it was during his college days. "Every night is a different challenge," he remarked. "You play against the best players in the league and I know that coming in. I just accept the challenges that are ahead of me." And they didn't come much bigger than the night before the Suns game where he faced no other than Shaquille O'Neil. "That was a big…huge challenge. He's a talented player and it was a really tough playing against him."

The Golden State Warriors center, picked ninth overall in the last NBA draft, had a career-high 27 points against the Detroit Pistons on December 23rd. Does he feel that this is a validation that he can succeed in the league? "It was like one of those coming out parties," he replied. "It showed that I can play in the NBA despite what people say about my size. I'm effective on the low block even on this level."

Diogu received a warm ovation when introduced in the starting lineup, and the boos were nearly non-existent when he shot (and made all of) his three free throws. He secured 12 tickets for his friends in the Phoenix area and that group along with many other fans certainly made him feel welcomed. Following the game, he smiled when asked if it was nice to hear cheers on a road game for a change: "I guess so," he stated. "I hope no one was booing me (smile). It was good to be back home and it was a good crowd out there. I hope we can get a win next time."

Diogu wasn't able to finish his career at ASU with teammates and close friends Kevin Kruger, Serge Angounou and Allen Morill, but hung around Tempe as much as he could after the draft. After all, it made monetary sense as well. "I was still at the apartments there," he explained. "I already paid my rent so I might as well have stayed there (smile). I just went with what I knew. It (the college life) was real nice." One manifestation of that lifestyle was undoubtedly his much talked about Tempe12.com 2006 calendar shoot with a fine sample of ASU co-eds. "That was a high selling calendar (laughs)," he said without referring whether it was his presence or the models that made the calendar such a commercial hit.

As far as his popularity with the Warriors, as well as the maroon and gold faithful, there's no question that only he is responsible for that…

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