Ike Diogu Continues To Impress In Bay Area

Dec. 7, 2005

By Mark PurdySan Jose Mercury News Staff ColumnistDec. 6, 2005

We like Ike.

And by ``we,'' I mean those of us who watched the Warriors during the past decade and never found much to like at all.

In fact, when we watched the Warriors, they were often unwatchable. But we didn't like it.

Now, we like watching, because the Warriors have players like Ike Diogu, the team's first-round draft pick last spring. He is hardly the Warriors' most important player. But he is a symbol of why they are watchable.

Under executive Chris Mullin, the Warriors have consistently acquired players who take the court as if they mean business. The 6-foot-8 Diogu falls into that category. When I heard, several months ago, that he had committed 10 fouls in one summer league game -- obviously, this was a league in which players could not be disqualified -- I knew I would like Ike.

How's that? You think committing 10 fouls in a game shows a lack of discipline? Not here. To me, it shows that a guy wants the ball real bad -- or wants to stop the other guys from scoring real bad, or wants to reach the rim real bad.

``I consider myself to be an aggressive player,'' Diogu said Monday, confirming the obvious.

More confirmation: After a broken bone in his hand caused Diogu to miss the season's first 12 games, he made his first NBA appearance two weeks ago and immediately became a crowd favorite at Oakland Arena with his happy havoc. In his six games, Diogu has played about 15 minutes, averaging 8 points and 3.7 rebounds -- and 2.5 fouls.

Over a full 48 minutes, that translates to 25.6 points and 11.8 rebounds -- and 8 fouls. Which is why Diogu will not be playing even 20 minutes a game for a while. But it shows his potential.

Mike likes Ike.

That would be Mike Montgomery. As a college coach, Montgomery earned a reputation as a big man's mentor and developer. He took raw material at Montana and Stanford and turned it into efficient, productive machinery. Montgomery works with loftier talent in the pros, but you can tell he enjoys the prospect of helping Diogu transform himself into an NBA paint proprietor.

``Young guys, it just takes a long time to figure it all out, how to defend and what to do down there,'' Montgomery said. ``Ike is a guy who has specific skills that are obvious. He can score from the block. He can make free throws. He's pretty quick off his feet. . . . It's just going to take time.''

Right. But here's one axiom that holds true in any sport: It is far easier to get an aggressive player to scale back than it is to persuade a non-aggressive player to become more vicious. For the Warriors, who feature plenty of flash and speed and three-point shooting, some viciousness is always welcome. If they make the playoffs, it will become mandatory.

And that's when the Warriors will need all 255 pounds of Diogu. Yes, Troy Murphy seems more inclined to bloody his nose near the hoop these days, and Adonal Foyle is good for a few big bangs. But in Diogu the Warriors have acquired someone who can go down low, own property and build a condo on it.

Nike likes Ike.

The shoe company has signed Diogu to an endorsement contract. It's not an enormous deal, but should Ike fulfill his promise, the company will have a great spokesman with a sweet story to tell.

Diogu's parents were born in Nigeria. They immigrated to Buffalo, where his father earned a doctoral degree, then settled near Dallas. There, young Ike grew infatuated with the unofficial state religion of Texas -- football.

``The only reason I played basketball,'' Diogu said, ``was that two friends who I grew up with, they needed somebody to play on the seventh-grade basketball team.''

That was his first brush with organized hoops. But after playing on a state-championship football team as a sophomore, Diogu had grown to 6-6. He was no dummy. He realized that basketball could be his ticket to a college scholarship. He began woodshedding at the local rec center's pickup games, honing the physical style that landed him at Arizona State.

Tykes like Ike.

At Diogu's personal appearances, kids gravitate to him. Maybe it's because he is a big kid himself.

And he loves going back to revisit his youth. The morning after the Warriors drafted him, Diogu and a high school friend went back to the rec center and got up a game, just for old time's sake.

``Every time I go in the game,'' Diogu said, ``I want to make something happen.''

This could explain his four fouls in 13 minutes against Charlotte on Friday. I know, I know. You think he's too aggressive. So you don't like Ike the way I like Ike. But if that's the case, I have three words for you: Take a hike.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5092.

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