ASSOCIATED PRESS — Fifteen years after Ike Diogu was a first-round NBA draft choose, Nigerians are setting information.
Diogu was the lone Nigerian-American amongst a bunch of worldwide gamers chosen again in 2005. This 12 months, an entire beginning 5 after which some may very well be constructed from all of the picks with Nigerian ties.
“I noticed the wave that was coming, however I used to be simply comfortable the remainder of the world received to see it,” mentioned the 37-year-old Diogu, the captain of the Nigerian nationwide group.
The NBA hailed final week’s draft as “historic” as a result of for the primary time two gamers from Nigeria had been first-rounders, and one other six who’ve at the least one Nigerian mother or father had been additionally picked.
Because the rookies signal their first contracts forward of the NBA season scheduled to begin Dec. 22, now comes the exhausting a part of making the group and getting taking part in time.
Chosen ninth total by the Golden State Warriors, Diogu had thought he can be a cornerstone of a rebuilding franchise. However he was traded throughout his second season.
“It’s good to mentally put together your self that something can occur,” Diogu mentioned in an interview from Rwanda, the place the Nigerian nationwide group is taking part in this week.
Diogu, who performed at Arizona State, hopes his fellow Nigerians — and different draft picks — keep away from the pitfalls he encountered. He recalled considering he wanted to impress as a rookie by flashing his full repertoire of publish strikes. However a coach instructed him, ”‘you’re making the sport too sophisticated.’”
“Make the sport easy,” Diogu mentioned. “Play your fashion of basketball and let the sport come to you, as a substitute of of going on the market and urgent.”
After a stable rookie season — he averaged 7 factors and three.3 rebounds in quarter-hour per recreation — the Warriors employed Don Nelson, whose up-tempo, small-ball plan didn’t embody Diogu, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound publish participant.
Following six NBA seasons, the Texas native started a profitable abroad stint, primarily with groups in Asia. He’s performed in two Olympics with Nigeria, and plans to play on the Tokyo Video games, additionally, with Nigeria already certified.
He watched final week’s draft from Phoenix, the place he spends off-seasons, earlier than touring to Rwanda for a continental event.
The Nigeria-born first-rounders — Valuable Achiuwa (twentieth, Miami Warmth) and Udoka Azubuike (twenty seventh, Utah Jazz) — each performed highschool and school basketball in america. The opposite six embody Isaac Okoro (fifth, Cleveland Cavaliers) and Onyeka Okongwu (sixth, Atlanta Hawks).
The NBA hailed it as a “historic night time” for Nigeria, Africa’s most-populous nation.
“This achievement additional showcases Nigeria’s lengthy basketball custom and African gamers’ continued influence on the sport of basketball all over the world,” mentioned Victor Williams, CEO of NBA Africa.
Nigeria has given the NBA two No. 1 total picks — Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984, and Michael Olowokandi in 1998. The numbers have elevated lately. 5 gamers of Nigerian descent had been chosen within the 2017 Draft. League MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, drafted in 2013, was born in Greece to Nigerian mother and father.
Miami Warmth president Pat Riley described Achiuwa as “probably the most underrated gamers within the draft” and famous that he’s solely been taking part in organized basketball for six years.
Achiuwa grew up in Port Harcourt in southeast Nigeria and mentioned he desires to symbolize “the place I’m from, my entire nation behind me, my entire metropolis.”
Okoro mentioned his mom at all times instructed him “to maintain that Nigerian pleasure. Regardless that I wasn’t born in Nigeria, I nonetheless received Nigerian blood.”
Diogu is aware of that feeling. Rising up close to Dallas, he discovered as a lot about his mother and father’ Imo state as he did concerning the Lone Star state.
“I used to be born within the U.S. however I grew up within the U.S. as a Nigerian,” he mentioned. “I used to be across the Nigerian group, I went to a Nigerian church, Nigerian events, all of my mates had been like me — each mother and father had been Nigerian.
“So my mother and father at all times made certain to let or not it’s identified that you’re Nigerian and it is advisable to know the methods of the tradition, meals, music, the whole lot … All people’s garments would odor just like the meals that your mother was cooking, the dried fish or the goat meat or no matter.”
Regardless the nationality, NBA success isn’t nearly expertise, Diogu mentioned. A primary-rounder taking part in behind a $30 million-per-year participant might solely get spot minutes, for instance.
“As loopy because it sounds,” he mentioned, “there’ll be some second-round picks that get into conditions which can be higher than first-round picks.
“It’s a high quality line between success and failure within the NBA.”
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Groundbreaker Ike Diogu noticed wave of Nigerians in NBA coming initially appeared on NBCSports.com