Longform

Destiny's Child

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"One of the funniest people I've ever known," says roommate Serge Angounou.

"When Ike comes home to Garland [Texas]," adds his father, Edward Diogu, "we know there's going to be laughter all over the house. Ike is a very funny guy, yes, sir!"

Asked last week by New Times where he expects to be in, say, 10 or 15 years, Diogu pondered the question before responding with the utmost gravity, "After basketball, I'm going to pursue a career in modeling."

Two of ASU's assistant coaches walking by overheard him, and broke up laughing. Diogu couldn't hold his deadpan, and started to giggle like a kid.

No one in Tempe seems to be a stranger to Ike.

He smiles and says hello to dozens of people on campus every day while sauntering to class. (Diogu is a confirmed slowpoke, except on the court, where he moves deceptively fast for a 250-pound guy.) This semester, he's taking Printmaking, Film 406, Science of Painting, and Art History, certainly not the usual fare for a major-sport athlete.

Diogu says he considers himself a typical college student, and he behaves as such -- sans the drugs, alcohol and other experimentation that often is part of life on campus. Last December, for example, Diogu rushed the floor with a bevy of other students (including his pal, senior point guard Jason Braxton) when the excellent ASU women's team had just upset the defending national champion UConn Huskies.

"I was excited for the girls," he says. "It was a very cool moment."


It's a pity that Diogu and his teammates haven't had their own cool on-court moment like that during his three years at ASU.

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.

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."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin