WSU's speedy Ike Iroegbu aims to slow mind game

HIS MIND RACED as his feet flew. And for lightning-quick guard Ike Iroegbu, that wasn’t always a good combination last basketball season. Sure he had 17 steals, second on the WSU roster to only DaVonte’ Lacy. But Iroegbu also chalked up a team-high 60 turnovers, accounting for a ho-hum 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio.

So, expect more cerebral play from a guy who thinks this could be a special season for the Cougars.

Oh, not to worry, Iroegbu will still push the pedal up and down the court. But his mind will be in slow motion.

“My game has grown a lot,” the 6-foot-2 junior said in a phone interview Thursday. “Now, I know what reads to make. And now that I have a year under my belt in Coach (Ernie) Kent’s system, I know how things are supposed to look, what things to do and what things not to do…

“I know I’m really quick, but at the same time my mind’s slowed down so I can make more plays and I can see the floor better. Working over the summer and getting better every day, I feel I know how to slow things down, but at the same time go fast, if that makes sense.”

Ike Iroegbu was dubbed the fastest player in the Pac-12 last season by network analyst Lamar Hurd – an accolade he is honored yet humbled by.

“I feel like I’m pretty quick, but I don’t like to talk about myself like that,” he said. “But I feel like that’s a good assumption. I do use my speed to my advantage when I can. I appreciate him saying that, that means a lot, because this is a great league – one of the best if not the best league in the country. So, that says a lot.”

Iroegbu played in all 31 games as a freshman and started all but one last season, leading the Cougs in assists (3.4) while finishing third in scoring (8.9). His best outing was a double-double (18 points, 11 assists) in the final regular-season game, an overtime victory against Colorado.

With the graduation of Lacy and fellow guard Dexter Kernich-Drew, Iroegbu is primed to play a more prominent role this season -- both in terms of leadership and overall performance.

“Ike will be called upon to do much more than last year, particularly in regard to leadership on and off the court,” Kent said.

Iroegbu is a co-captain with Josh Hawkinson and Junior Longrus and the three attended a leadership camp in Ohio last May.

“We learned a lot,” he said.

Kent said that Iroegbu's work down the stretch last season could be a sign of things to come.

“He and Josh (Hawkinson) came on last year,” he said. “If you go off of what he (Ike) showed at the end of last year, you know what direction his game is headed.”

Kent plans to use Iroegbu at the point, the 2 and the 3 positions this season.

ONE CHANGE IN IROEGU'S GAME that fans will notice the moment he takes the court is his jersey number. Gone is his signature 0 and in is 2. It's a salute to his two brothers, both of whom also are playing college basketball – Chuks, the oldest, a former Cougar walk on who is now a senior at Northern Illinois, and Uchenna, a sophomore at the College of Southern Idaho. The three grew up shooting hoops at a Salvation Army in California – after switching from soccer – and Ike said his game is a blend of the other two.

Ike said he is ready to be “the guy” in the Cougars’ offense if needed this season. But his focus is on results.

“I just want to go out there and help the team win, because I feel like we have a really good team this year,” he said. “We’re closer and our chemistry is really good. I’m just really excited to go out there and play basketball.

“I try not to think about it (personal accomplishments) too much. When people think about those things too much, that’s when they mess up. I’m just going to go out there and relax and play my game. At the end of the day, if people are saying I’m the guy, I’m the guy. But if we’re winning, and I’m not the guy, that’s cool too.”

So, how good can this team be?

“We can be really good,” said Iroegbu, a sociology major who likes learning about people. “We’ve just got to keep working and get better each and every day.”

Last year’s finish was disappointing, he said, in part because there were few times when everyone played well at the same time.

“I feel we’re more talented and more balanced than last year, so I feel we should do a lot better, he said.”

And expect the fleet Iroegbu to lead the charge, in a more cerebral way.

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