Fifteen years after Ike Diogu was a first-round NBA draft pick, Nigerians are setting records.
Diogu was the lone Nigerian-American among a group of international players selected back in 2005. This year, a whole starting five and then some could be built from all the picks with Nigerian ties.
“I saw the wave that was coming, but I was just happy the rest of the world got to see it,” said the 37-year-old Diogu, the captain of Nigerian national team.
The NBA hailed last week’s draft as “historic” because for the first time two players from Nigeria were first-rounders, and another six who have at least one Nigerian parent were also picked.
As the rookies sign their first contracts ahead of the NBA season scheduled to start December 22, now comes the hard part of making the team and getting playing time.
Selected ninth overall by the Golden State Warriors, Diogu had thought he would be a cornerstone of a rebuilding franchise. But he was traded during his second season.
“It’s good to mentally prepare yourself that anything can happen,” Diogu said in an interview from Rwanda, where the Nigerian national team is playing this week.
Diogu, who played at Arizona State, hopes his fellow Nigerians and other draft picks avoid the pitfalls he encountered. He recalled thinking he needed to impress as a rookie by flashing his full repertoire of post moves. But a coach told him,” ‘you’re making the game too complicated.’”
“Make the game simple,” Diogu said. “Play your style of basketball and let the game come to you, instead of of going out there and pressing.”