Diogu Fighting for Suns Final Roster Spot
Since Ike Diogu last called the Valley home, as an Arizona State Sun Devil, he has played for 10 teams in the last seven seasons, some in the NBA, others overseas. From the Golden State Warriors to the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, the power forward has continued to try to find his path in basketball.
That path has brought him back to the area that launched his career for one more chance at making an NBA roster and making a living in the game he loves.
Diogu participated in the Phoenix Suns’ annual Media Day on Monday, and then quickly hopped aboard the team plane bound for training camp in San Diego. There he will officially begin the process of trying to become the team’s final member.
The former Pac-10 Player of the Year and ninth-overall pick of the 2005 NBA Draft is hoping that he can collect on some of the good vibes the Phoenix area has produced over the years for his game.
“Yeah, it definitely brings back a lot of good memories, so that’s pretty cool,” he said. “I’ve always had great fan support here, and I had a lot of success here in college.”
It was Diogu’s more recent successes, however, that earned him the invite to Suns camp. While playing for the Nigerian National Team, he scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a game against the Dominican Republic in a victory that qualified Nigeria for the 2012 Olympics. That outburst and his play on the world stage in London put the power forward back on the radar for NBA clubs.
“I was so happy just to have the opportunity to showcase to everybody that the skills are still there,” Diogu said. “I think a lot of people were surprised with what I was able to do with my national team. I just want to carry it over to let everyone know that I’m a legitimate NBA player, and that I belong in this league.”
Diogu isn’t the only one who is looking to prove himself in San Diego this week. There are four others who will be pursuing the team’s final roster spot with just as much passion.
Diante Garrett is a familiar face in Suns camp, at least to Markieff Morris, P.J. Tucker and Kendall Marshall. All four guys competed together in the 2012 NBA Las Vegas Summer League, which Garrett is hoping to use to his advantage.
Although the Iowa State product is primarily a point guard, but he also showed the ability to slide over to shooting guard during summer league. Whether he’s being asked to create for other scorers, or if he’s the one being asked to shoot, the 6-4 guard feels like his strengths include versatility and preparation.
“I’ve been here training with the team for about a week, and before that I was back at home in Milwaukee just waiting for the call, trying to figure out if I was going to have an opportunity here or overseas,” said Garrett, who played in Croatia and France last season. “I feel really comfortable here – both with the people and the system run by Coach Gentry – so I really do believe this was the best chance for me this season.”
Basketball fans may recognize the name Zeller.
Suns camp invitee Luke Zeller is the eldest of three brothers who have made an impact in the game. Middle child Tyler played for North Carolina and was drafted 17th overall in this year’s draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, while their youngest brother, Cody, is a highly-regarded forward at Indiana University.
For Luke, basketball has always been a part of his life. He was a McDonald’s All-American and Mr. Basketball coming out of Washington, Indiana – a town of 11,000 people that had a high school gym that sat 7,100.
“In a small town, there isn’t much else to do besides go to church and play basketball,” Luke laughed.
As the brothers have become successful in the game they love, they have spread out. Luke says they all still stay in touch regularly, and he was able to work out with Cody a little bit this summer back in Indiana. But the opportunity before him in Phoenix is not something this Midwesterner is overlooking.
“For me, it’s more about who you’re with than what you’re doing,” Luke said of the roster he hopes to make. “I’ve been around teams that feel more like a family, and I feel that way here with the Suns.”
Now in his sixth season out of South Florida, Solomon Jones is a known quantity around the NBA. All of his time has been spent in the association as an athletic big man who can rebound and defend the interior.
The Suns will be his fifth team, but he has high hopes that his skills will match up well with Coach Gentry’s system.
“I think I have a great opportunity here,” Jones said. “I think this organization is a great one, and I think the style of this team fits the way I like to play. The up-and-down, fast-paced game is great for me, because I can use my athletic ability.”
Othyus Jeffers has had no shortage of adversity in his life.The deaths of two brothers have led the 6-5 guard to savor every moment, and the moments he really enjoys are those on the basketball court.
That has been evident in the way he has had to rehab and work to get back from a torn ACL. Now another opportunity is in front of Jeffers, as he enters camp with the Suns – his fourth NBA team.
Prior to this season, he has spent time with Utah, San Antonio and Washington.
“Right now, it’s just about proving a point,” Jeffers said. “I’m going to prove myself to get back into the game. I’m here now, and I’m looking to have a good time.”