Friday, November 27, 2020

Former NBA lottery pick saw wave of Nigerian players coming

 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.

AP

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 Dec. 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.

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.’”

After a solid rookie season — he averaged 7 points and 3.3 rebounds in 15 minutes per game — the Warriors hired Don Nelson, whose up-tempo, small-ball plan didn’t include Diogu, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound post player.

Following six NBA seasons, the Texas native began a successful overseas stint, mainly with teams in Asia. He's played in two Olympics with Nigeria, and plans to play at the Tokyo Games, also, with Nigeria already qualified.

The Nigeria-born first-rounders — Precious Achiuwa (20th, Miami Heat) and Udoka Azubuike (27th, Utah Jazz) — both played high school and college basketball in the United States. The other six include Isaac Okoro (5th, Cleveland Cavaliers) and Onyeka Okongwu (6th, Atlanta Hawks).

The NBA hailed it as a “historic night” for Nigeria, Africa's most-populous country.

Regardless the nationality, NBA success isn't just about talent, Diogu said. A first-rounder playing behind a $30 million-per-year player may only get spot minutes, for example.

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