Ike Diogu is a rich man. You’d just never know it. His first big purchase after signing a five-year, $13.2 million contract with the Golden State Warriors was a Chevy Tahoe — a car that will never appear on MTV’s “Pimp My Ride.”
He stayed in his off-campus apartment at ASU for several months after being drafted because, “I already had paid my rent for it.”
He laughs and so do you, because that’s so Ike.
He became a starter just 15 games into his NBA career, and is among the league leaders in field goal percentage (62.9 percent heading into Thursday’s games), yet his ego would have to be squeezed into a thimble.
He’s still the same unassuming, good-natured kid he was at ASU, a Southwest Airlines guy in a first-class world.
“He’s a little naïve, which is good,” Warriors coach Mike Montgomery said.
Diogu quickly has won over skeptics who wondered whether a 6-foot-8 post player could succeed in the NBA. He’s averaging 11 points and nearly five rebounds per game since becoming a starter six games ago, and he opened eyes with a 27-point, seven-rebound performance against the Detroit Pistons on Dec. 23.
“It was kind of like one of those coming-out parties,” Diogu said. “It let everybody know I am capable of playing in the NBA. Despite what everybody says about my size, I can be effective on the low post at this level. My teammates have more and more confidence in me. They see I can put the ball in the basket.”
Suns assistant coach Marc Iavaroni didn’t have any doubt after Diogu scored 37 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against Phoenix in the Las Vegas Summer League. Sure, it was against Lucas Tischer, but skills are skills, and Diogu has a refined, low-post game that’s become somewhat of a lost art in the NBA.
“He’s old school,” Iavaroni said. “He’s got quick feet, very nice spin moves and he finishes great with his left hand. That’s the reason he’s been successful.”
Added Montgomery: “You don’t see a lot of guys that can play into people and still get the ball into the basket while being fouled.”
What’s truly special about Diogu, however, is not his game, but his unwavering faith in himself. He’d never shout it from the rooftop — or even say it under his breath — but he knew he would make it in the NBA.
Quietly, he’s as confident as the braggart who beats his chest and plays to the camera after making an uncontested layup.
“He really believes what he’s about,” Iavaroni said.
There have been nights when Diogu is reminded that he’s a rookie. Like Tuesday, when he was bullied by 330-pound Miami Heat center Shaquille O’Neal.
Diogu played just 24 minutes, O’Neal scored 21 points and had 10 rebounds and when Diogu sat down his battered body in the locker room at halftime, he turned to fellow rookie Chris Taft and said, “Man, that’s a big dude.”
To which Taft replied, “That dude is huge.”
On next week’s episode, Diogu and Taft discover that Kobe Bryant likes to shoot the ball.
Diogu, who purchased 12 tickets for Thursday’s game against the Suns and signed autographs for a few fans wearing gold “I Like Ike” T-shirts, has kept up with ASU’s struggles and feels for embattled coach Rob Evans.
“I’ve got so many friends on the team, guys (Kevin Kruger, Serge Angounou,
Allen Morill) I still talk to a lot,” he said. “I want to see coach Evans succeed. I want to see him stay here.”
That might have happened had Diogu stayed for his senior season — the Devils likely would have been an NCAA tournament team — but it was time to go.
He was ready for the NBA and all that it had to offer.
Like a Chevy Tahoe.