Diogu Surprised By Reception in New Orleans
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

August 4, 2009

Ike Diogu has only been in the NBA for four seasons, but hes already been traded three times. In each of the three deals, hes generally been regarded by outside observers as little more than a throw-in aspect of the transaction. Though he entered the league as a highly-touted ninth overall pick in the 2005 draft, largely due to his lack of opportunity to play, Diogu has become less relevant to NBA fans with each passing basketball season.

How sparingly has Diogu been used by his previous four NBA clubs? To use one comparison, the Arizona State product has played a cumulative total of 2,311 career minutes. Three players on the New Orleans roster logged more minutes than that last season, including, of course, fellow 05 draft lottery pick Chris Paul (3,002 minutes in 2008-09).

Those facts help explain why the 6-foot-9, 250-pound power forward was a bit startled Thursday morning when the Hornets held a press conference to introduce their free-agent signing and a contingent of about 20 New Orleans media members attended.

I was definitely surprised, said Diogu, who probably was expecting roughly a handful of reporters and TV cameras to be on hand to document the official announcement.

That was just one of several reasons why the soft-spoken and reserved Diogu had a smile on his face for much of his visit to the teams headquarters in downtown NOLA. The Dallas-area native also was later introduced individually to the Hornets 100-plus employees, something Diogu hadnt experienced in the NBA.

Diogu played the final two months of the 2008-09 season in Sacramento, after being dealt there by Portland at the February trade deadline. Though the Kings were one of a handful of NBA teams that seriously pursued Diogu in free agency this summer, he had remained glued to the bench for the majority of his stop in Sacramento. Diogu only played in a combined three games for the Kings in February and March of last season, and never logged more than 20 minutes in a single game until the final two contests of the regular season. However, in those pair of season-ending games, he compiled 32 and 28 points against Denver and Minnesota, respectively, posting a double-double both times and helping improve his value as he headed into free agency. If not for an injury to rising Kings frontcourt player Spencer Hawes, Diogu may not have been on the floor much in those games, either.

I think thats what happens when you give me an opportunity to showcase what I can do, Diogu said of his close to 2008-09. Its tough to get out there and play like four minutes, and then get subbed out of the game. I definitely needed to show people that that's what I can do when you give me (playing) time. Once they gave me that opportunity, I took it and ran.

The Hornets front office has viewed him in high regard throughout the bulk of this decade, dating back to his three-year standout career at Arizona State. New Orleans general manager Jeff Bower said that he had discussed trying to trade for the player when Diogu was a member of both the Pacers and Trail Blazers.

We feel Ikes got the talent and capabilities. We expect a lot more in the form of production, Bower said. Over his career, hes demonstrated that when hes played minutes, he has produced. We need that type of production. We feel its an opportunity where Ike is really going to flourish. Theres a reason why other teams have traded for him.

Add it all up, and whether it was the local media, the Hornets organization of the teams basketball decision-makers, Diogu appeared excited to be greeted so warmly during Day 1 at his new job. He said he isnt very familiar yet with the city of New Orleans or the teams fans, but if you meet him when he returns full-time later this summer and wish to help welcome him to the Big Easy, here are a few interesting facts:

Diogu does not use profanity, even during games. When he was at Arizona State in college, his Sun Devil teammates often ribbed him, because when Diogu made a bad play, he would exclaim What the heck! He also does not drink alcohol and has vowed that he will never get any tattoos or piercings.

Diogus full name is Ikechukwu Somtochukwu Diogu. Like Emeka Okafors parents, Diogus mother and father are natives of Nigeria. Both players parents are from the same area of Nigeria and speak the Igbo language. Diogu describes the players as acquaintances, because the Igbo community is very close, even though Emeka grew up in Houston and I grew up in Dallas. Diogu said that if his parents and Okafors parents meet at a Hornets game next season, it is more likely that they will speak to each other in the Igbo language, which Ike also speaks fluently.

In an unfortunate coincidence, Diogus 18th birthday was on Sept. 11, 2001, the same day the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred. I was in (high school) English class when I heard about it, he said. It was a typical boring day at school until that happened.

Throughout his often-frustrating NBA career, Diogus friends have e-mailed him articles from basketball statistical experts such as ESPN.coms John Hollinger, to essentially show Diogu that some hoops observers still appreciate Diogus ability to perform in short minutes. They make me aware of that, just because they didnt want me to get discouraged by everything that was happening, Diogu related. One of my close friends in California, for example, would always send me things, such as Hollingers stuff. Ive been aware of it.

His older brother by six years, Eric Diogu, was the starting tight end for the 1998 national champion Tennessee Volunteers football team. Current NFL superstar quarterback and New Orleans native Peyton Manning graduated from Tennessee that spring. Ike himself played organized football until his sophomore year of high school, then chose to focus exclusively on basketball. His high school team won a Texas state high school championship, with Diogu lining up as a monstrous target at tight end. I was probably about 6-foot-5, 230 (pounds) or so back then, he said.

The Diogu family moved from Buffalo, N.Y., to Texas when Ike was 2 years old. Part of the motivation for the move was that older brother Eric was frequently ill as a youngster. He was always getting sick, because it was so cold outside, Ike remembered. So my parents had to move somewhere where it wasnt so brutal year-round.

Speaking of weather, after playing in Northern California, Indiana and Oregon during his NBA career so far, Diogu is looking forward to living in warm New Orleans.

I dont really know too much about the city itself yet, Diogu says, who has only visited on road trips here during his NBA career. But since Ive been here, they have been really, really nice people. But Im back in the South, which is where I am from. Im just excited about the opportunity. Im honored, especially for a guy like me whos been in some really tough situations (in the NBA). For the Hornets to really reach out to me and accept me and want to bring me in, Im just honored.

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