Diogu Getting Adjusted To NBA Life

Oct. 6, 2005

Oakland Tribune, Oct. 4, 2005

Warriors hope Diogu is the muscle they need

OAKLAND - As intriguing as the Golden State Warriors became at the end of last season, they are even more compelling now that they've addressed a couple of their most obvious weaknesses.

One of those is power in the paint in the form of a low-post scorer and all-around muscle man. Simply put, the Warriors didn't have one. Not even close ... and Thunder doesn't count.

But general manager Chris Mullin believes he's plugged some real thunder inside with rookie Ike Diogu, the team's first-round draft pick. Diogu elevated his standing almost immediately by becoming the leading scorer in the Summer Pro League in Las Vegas - 18.4 points per game along with 8.4 rebounds - and he finished off his six-game stint with a 37-point performance that awed those who saw it.

Despite that stunning performance, the former Arizona State star is still a bit of an unknown quantity even on his own team. The Sun Devils didn't get on TV much, and they play in one NCAA Tournament during Diogu's three years there.

'I've never seen him play at all,' confessed Troy Murphy on Monday as the team prepared to embark to Hawaii for a week of training camp.

In a few days, though, Murphy and other veterans no doubt will know all about Diogu while they count the bruises on their bodies. Anyone who watched him play in the Pac-10 the past couple of years can attest he's not shy about contact.

He's already got a little edge to him, too. He keeps hearing that he's too small to play center and perhaps power forward in the NBA even though he has a 7-foot-4 wingspan on a legit 6-foot-8 frame.

'It was the same thing in college,' he said with a glare of indignation. 'They said they didn't know if I'd be able to compete against those talented Pac-10 players.'

All Diogu did the past two years, but particularly last year, was lay waste to the Pac-10 even though he routinely faced double teams. He was the conference player of the year, averaging 22.6 points and 9.8 rebounds while hitting 80 percent of his free throws. He was a double-figure scorer in all 91 games he played at ASU.

That's what attracted Mullin to him. His game is all about fearlessness and production, and the organization believes it will translate well to the pros, particularly in the Warriors' up-tempo perimeter game. As long as he can handle himself defensively, the Warriors believe he'll make significant contributions almost immediately.

What's more, he's a genuine beast, and it's been a long time since the Warriors had one of those. Danny Fortson, maybe, but he was too inconsistent, insolent and injury-prone. Larry Smith was the real deal way back when, but his offensive game was extremely limited. Diogu already has drawn comparisons with Elton Brand for his strength, offensive versatility and tenacity.

'He can be outstanding on the offensive end,' said Warriors assistant Russell Turner, who coaches the team's young big men. 'Sometimes he looks like King Kong the way guys just fly off of him. He's an incredibly quick guy off the floor and very powerful. He takes a lot of hits that are not fouls, and he'll get through them to score.'

Diogu can shoot equally well with either hand, has a soft medium-range jumper and makes his free throws. So what are the down sides? Well, he was strictly a center in college, and there aren't many guys in the NBA his size playing the post. It could present problems, particularly defensively.

But Diogu isn't intimidated. He regularly played against guys such as Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion in pickup games around Phoenix and Tempe. Stoudemire, like himself, was a No. 9 pick in the NBA Draft.

'The first time I went against him my sophomore year, I didn't really play too well,' Diogu admitted. 'This last summer, though, I felt like I played all right. You've just got to make it tough on'em.'

Diogu has a reputation as a relentless worker and a quick study.

'There are some players who are naturally talented and there are others who work at it,' he said. 'I'm one of those guys who has to work at it. I've never really been given a chance, so I'm constantly being called an overachiever. All those questions about height, they've followed me from high school through college and now in the NBA. I just have to keep working, so I can silence everybody.'

The kid sounds as if he means business from Day One. With that in mind, better watch your ribs, Troy.

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