PHOENIX — Ike Diogu made a surprise appearance on the Phoenix Suns training camp roster on Media Day, and “surprise” is one word that the former Arizona State forward did this summer, leading the Nigerian national team through qualifying play in the Olympics.
And Diogu would love to be surprised by the Suns handing him a roster spot. He came to Phoenix about two weeks ago and ran with Phoenix players in open gym sessions.
“You know, I guess I played well in open gym,” the former Sun Devil said. “A lot of the guys were impressed and I guess it just trickled down to the front office and the coaches.”
Earning an invite to the training camp in La Jolla, Calif., might have had to do with forward’s heart condition that will keep him out of action. The 29-year-old Diogu poses the biggest threat of the training camp invitees to make the Suns roster, having six years of NBA experience with the Warriors, Pacers, Trail Blazers, Kings, Clippers and Spurs.
With NBA career averages of 6.0 points and 3.1 rebounds, Diogu is using his success with the Nigerian national team as a second wind of sorts. He said that he not only built confident in playing against the world’s best, but also proved that he’s an NBA-level big man.
“It definitely helped my confidence, because I got to play against all the premier players in the world,” Diogu said, “you know, from the Dream Team to all the top big men internationally. As everybody saw, I surprised a lot of people with the way I was able to play against some of those big names out there, and you know, kind of dispelling the rumor about whether I can play against size or not because I played center.
“Everybody who I played against was at least two or three inches taller than me,” he added. “Like I said, I was able to hold my own and surprise people.”
The highlight for Diogu may have been in the historic 156-73 blowout loss to the United States in the qualifying round. Diogu scored 27 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 30 minutes against the undersized but talented Americans. Against current Sun’s Argentinian squad, Diogu scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a 93-79 loss.
What could Diogu do for Phoenix?
Rebounding might be needed. And Diogu’s low post game and below-the-rim play might overshadow his shooting range. Against Scola’s team in the Olympics, Diogu was 2-for-2 from the international three-point line.
Now, he’s hoping there’s a place for him with the Suns.
“It’s all about being in the right place at the right time,” Diogu said Monday. “I honestly believe — I don’t care how good of a player you are — if you’re not in a really good situation, you’re not going to be able to flourish and your growth is going to be stunted as a player.
“This is a new opportunity and that’s all you can ask for, is an opportunity and a chance.”