Destiny's Child

Ike Diogu's the Pac-10's player of the year. Will he stay at ASU or go to the NBA for millions?

In fact, he says, the best moment of his career came in March 2003, when ASU upset the University of Memphis in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Oklahoma City. Diogu led his team with 22 points.

Unless you live in Tucson, Durham, Lawrence, Storrs, Chapel Hill, Syracuse or a handful of other major-college hotbeds, 20-win seasons and NCAA tourney berths aren't a given. For most midlevel teams such as ASU, seasons usually are high-wire acts, where one missed lay-up or defensive box-out may spell the difference between a bid to the Dance and calls for the coach's head.

A few of those turning-point plays come to mind this season. On November 26, in Las Vegas, junior guard Tyrone Jackson barely missed a driving shot at the buzzer. UTEP 66, ASU 65.

Ike Diogu in decision-making mode
Peter Scanlon
Ike Diogu in decision-making mode
Diogu's future plans aren't a slam dunk.
Peter Scanlon
Diogu's future plans aren't a slam dunk.

Then came the devastating February 5 home loss to California, on a last-second offensive rebound and put-back basket by Cal's point guard.

On February 26, a senior playing in his last home game in Pullman, Washington, hit a desperation three-pointer with a few seconds left to give Washington State a two-point win.

Two nights earlier, the University of Arizona had been in a similar predicament to ASU's in Pullman, a perennially tough road game. But the Wildcats escaped with a 57-56 overtime win.

And while we're on the subject of the 'Cats, a last-seconds basket by Arizona's Salim Stoudamire ended the Sun Devils' hopes for an upset in that March 5 game.

Good teams, as the saying goes, find a way to win tough games. Lesser teams find ways to lose.

Most discouraging was that, just two days earlier, ASU had played one of its best games of the season in losing 90-82 to a University of Washington squad currently ranked 10th in the land.

The Devils played very hard, and well at times, and trailed by only three points with about a minute to go. But ASU needed top offensive output from someone other than Diogu and sophomore shooting guard Kevin Kruger.

For his part, Diogu played all 40 minutes against the Huskies, scored 31 points, gathered 15 rebounds (eight of them off his own team's many missed shots) and hit his last 17 free throws in succession. Seventeen!

It truly was an All-American performance.

After the game, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar compared ASU and Diogu to Joe Frazier, the heavyweight great whose style was to bore in on his opponent without regard for his own physical well-being.

"They just came at us, and they played at a very high level," Romar said. "Ike Diogu was just phenomenal, that's all that I can say about him. That kid is a heck of a player."

More telling was a comment by Washington's Nate Robinson, one of the nation's very best little men.

"He's just a grown man playing a college basketball game," Robinson said. "He's like a train going downhill. You just hope to slow him down."

In 1980, Jane and Edward Diogu moved to Buffalo, New York, from their native Nigeria to continue their respective educations.

Edward Diogu was completing work on his doctorate at the state University at Buffalo, while his wife was working on her bachelor's degree in education.

The Diogus already had two young sons, both of them born in Africa. Jane Diogu soon gave birth in the States to another child, a daughter.

Then, in June 1983, she bore her fourth and final baby, an 11-pound, 24-inch-long specimen with unusually long fingers and big feet.

The couple decided to name their youngest Ikechukwa Somotochukwa Diogu.

Edward Diogu explains that the first name (pronounced E-KAY-CHU-KWU) means "God's power" in his native language. The surname Diogu means "leader of the troops," or general.

"I have always called him a child of destiny, destiny's child," says Edward Diogu, who holds a Ph.D. "Did I dream he was going to play basketball and lead his team? No, I never had those dreams. We just liked the name and it came out that way."

The Diogu boys all loved to play football (the two older boys later played major-college ball), and their parents encouraged all of their children to participate in athletics. But sports always have taken second place in this family to academics.

"To tell you how diligent we have been," Edward Diogu says, "Ike did not miss one day of school ever -- in elementary school, middle school and high school. Ever."

Even now, with Diogu's future at ASU hanging in the balance, his parents remain concerned about his continued academic success.

"It would be the greatest paradox for Ike not to earn his degree, especially in our household," his father says, chuckling only slightly.

He points out that Ike's two brothers are working on their master's degrees, and his sister is set to graduate this May from North Texas State. Edward and Jane Diogu teach in the Dallas school district: He teaches high school French, and English As a Second Language. She teaches elementary school social studies.

Coach Evans says that Mrs. Diogu asked to speak with him for a moment during a basketball practice around Christmas.

"They had to leave for Texas, and she wanted me to know something," he recalls. "I turned the practice over to my assistants, and sat down with her. She said, 'Coach, we love what you've done with Ike, but please make sure you stay on him about this certain class. He needs to do well in it to get to the next level.' I said, 'You know we'll do that.'"

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