‘Forever indebt to ASU:’ Ike Diogu reflects on time as a Sun Devil

Jan 14, 2022, 12:25 PM
Ike Diogu #5 of the Arizona State Sun Devils holds the ball during the game against the UCLA Bruins on January 15, 2004 at Pauley Pavillion in Westwood, California. UCLA defeated Arizona State 66-58. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
(Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

In 2005, Arizona State said goodbye to Ike Diogu, one of the greatest basketball players in school history. On Saturday, 17 years since his departure, Desert Financial Arena will welcome him to the court in the spotlight once again.

“It’ll be good to see a bunch of old faces, get back into the arena and step on the floor again. I hope I don’t cry,” Diogu said during a Zoom conference on Thursday, two days before the school places his jersey in the rafters during a game against Colorado.

While Diogu’s return will bring plenty of emotions, the night will only grow his love and admiration for Arizona State. Living in Phoenix, he attends men’s and women’s basketball games, as well as football games, whenever he can.

Diogu being a Sun Devil would not have been possible had ASU head coach Rob Evans not reached out to him in 2002.

“Coach Evans meant a lot to my career because he was one of the first people to really believe in me,” Diogu said. “He offered me a scholarship early … he saw something in me and he always believed in me which pushed me to be great.”

Initially, the thought of being ‘great’ never crossed Diogu’s mind when he arrived in Tempe.

“When I came into college, I didn’t have any expectations. I knew there was a lot of seniors,” Diogu said. “I just wanted to contribute and have a solid freshman season, hopefully have a four-year career and see what happens afterwards.”

Instead of just fitting in, Diogu became a star for Arizona State. Over three seasons, he averaged 19.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while earning the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year award.

However, the highlight of his entire career came days after the Pac-10 Tournament in 2003.

“The top moment is always going to be my freshman year on Selection Sunday, sitting down and hearing our name called … We were on edge while watching and to hear our name called was awesome,” Diogu said.

The Sun Devils earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in eight seasons, entering as the 10th seed in the West Region.

Playing the first matchup against the Memphis Tigers in Oklahoma City, Diogu’s parents and high school coach traveled from Texas to see him compete. He dropped 22 points in the 84-71 win over Memphis, making his presence well-known to the nation.

His sophomore and junior seasons continued the hype. Diogu averaged more than 22 points per game in both seasons, placing himself as one of the top 10 scorers in the nation in 2004 and 2005. Diogu was named to All-Pac-10 teams all three seasons.

“I owe so much to the program. They helped jumpstart my pro career, gave me the opportunity to be a pro,” Diogu said. “I am forever in debt to ASU and they have always taken care of me.”

In the 2005 NBA Draft, the Golden State Warriors selected Diogu with the ninth overall pick, the fifth highest Sun Devil drafted in history. His NBA career would span over nine seasons, playing for six different teams and missing one season due to a knee injury.

While his NBA career does not match the level of his college career, the lessons he learned while at ASU guided him to continuing a professional career outside the association.

“Through all the adversity that I have had throughout my professional career, I think the mental toughness [Evans] instilled helped me get through some of the really tough times I faced,” Diogu said.

Currently 38 years old, Diogu is still playing with past stops all across the globe: China, Japan, Puerto Rico and Mexico. He also represented Nigeria in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

But even after traveling around the world, his favorite place is still the hometown of his college career.

“I can’t say anything bad about Tempe. All of my memories are just positive, from the weather to the little restaurants that I use to go to,” Diogu said. “You can’t top Tempe.”

On Saturday, Tempe will see Diogu’s jersey hang among other all-time greats from ASU: James Harden, Fat Lever, Joe Caldwell, Eddie House, Byron Scott, Lionel Hollins and Alton Lister.

“[They are] some of the greatest players to ever play basketball … to be able to be in the same breathe as those guys is amazing and something I would have never imagined,” Diogu said.

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