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?

Suffice it to say that Ike Diogu decided to attend ASU after a series of fortuitous events combined with hard recruiting work. Assistant coach Tony Benford says he first identified Diogu as a prospect as a sophomore at Garland High School.

"He was overlooked at first, but we saw something in him right away," says Benford. "Later on, we were the first to offer him a scholarship. We went to his home three times, Coach [Evans] and me. We saw right away that this was a great Christian family all about substance, not flash and dash. Loyalty is huge to Ike, and to us. I told him that before it was over, his name was going to be synonymous with ASU basketball, and he was going to be an All-American. I told him that he was going to get a lot of touches in his freshman year, and he did. He developed a lot quicker because of his opportunity."

But getting Diogu to commit wasn't a slam dunk for the Devils after his stock rose precipitously during his junior season at Garland High.

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.

Bigger-name programs -- including Illinois, Kansas, Georgetown, Alabama and, finally, powerful Connecticut -- came courting, and Rob Evans feared he might lose an essential piece of his rebuilding plan.

"I brought him to Tempe as soon as we could do so legally during our first week of school in his senior year," Evans says. "He came out with his mom and a coach. Mrs. Diogu was very, very meticulous in everything she was looking at and the questions she was asking of me and my wife [Carolyn]. It was all about academics and about how we treat our kids."

Knowing of the other colleges hot on Diogu's trail, the coach traveled to Garland the very next week: "We sat in their living room with two of Ike's coaches, his mom and dad, brothers, aunts, uncles and so on. Mrs. Diogu tells us that they can tell him where to go to school, but they wouldn't do that. . . . I felt like I had to make a stand.

"I said, 'Your son is our number-one guy, but we have numbers two, three and four waiting in the wings. I don't want to lose all of them waiting for Ike's decision.' Mrs. Diogu stood up, walked in front of us and said, 'Coach, nobody pressures Ike. If you must move on, move on.' I say, 'No, ma'am, you don't understand. I'm gonna stay with Ike as long as I can. I just have to tell you what's going on on my end."

Diogu signed with ASU, but not before he addressed members of a Sun Devils sports Web site in defense of his father. It seems Edward Diogu had told a reporter that his son hadn't made up his mind yet, even after Diogu had suggested that he was going to ASU. That led some joker to write something untoward about the elder Diogu.

"Please don't make it seem like my dad is the enemy because he is not," Ike responded in his own e-mail. "He will support me in anything I decide. [But] if push comes to shove, I will not disobey my parents."

In the end, Diogu says, he didn't have to think about disobedience. And even though UConn went on to win the national championship last year, and Illinois currently is the nation's number-one team, Diogu swears that he has no regrets.

"I made the decision, and my parents agreed with it," he says. "Everything happens for a reason, and there was a reason I came to ASU, and for everything that's happening now."

In the hours before the February 17 home game against Oregon State, Ike Diogu sits with a visitor in his dorm room engaging in one of his favorite pastimes -- chilling.

It's a must-win for the Sun Devils, coming as they are off back-to-back losses in Los Angeles to UCLA and lowly USC. With the defeats, public talk about Coach Evans' future at ASU (or lack thereof) is reaching a crescendo.

But Diogu couldn't seem more relaxed.

"I decided as a junior in high school that basketball games weren't going to get me uptight," he says. "By then, I knew I had some people watching me, and I played lousy because I wasn't relaxed out there. I did some talking to myself after that."

His cell phone has been ringing incessantly. Diogu decides to answer one call, and has fun with a young woman on the other end.

"Of course I go to class," he says, feigning exasperation. "If I didn't go to class, I wouldn't be able to play. We have people who check up on us."

He listens to her for a moment, then says in mock-seriousness, "The question is, what will you be doing this weekend?"

Though Diogu doesn't have a steady girlfriend, he's popular with the ladies, and for obvious reasons: He's the real deal -- approachable, clever, good-looking, admired by all. Yet he's more interested in picking their brains than bragging on himself.

At 4 p.m., Diogu turns on a DVD of The Chronicles of Riddick, a futuristic adventure flick. He gets lost in the yarn for the next hour or so, occasionally checking on the time. Then, precisely at 5:15, he stands up, stretches, turns off the television set, and strolls out of his third-floor room for the short walk to the arena.

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