Most people in Ike Diogu’s position would have their agent on speed dial, a Cadillac Escalade in their garage and some serious bling-bling around their necks.
But, then, Diogu isn’t like most people. This is a kid, after all, who decided to play basketball at downtrodden Arizona State rather than Connecticut or Illinois. A kid who took out his cornrows because his mom asked him to. A kid who has no tattoos, no body piercings and no ego. And a kid, apparently, who is in no rush to jump to the NBA and become a millionaire.
"He is torn," ASU assistant coach Brooks Thompson said. "He wants to make sure he makes the right decision." Let’s see. Turn pro, get a guaranteed three-year contract as a first-round draft choice and live out a boyhood dream.
Or, return to another mediocre Arizona State team, to double and triple teams, to perhaps another season that ends in frustration.
Seems like an easy call, but it’s a testament to who Diogu is, rather than what he is, that he’s giving some thought to finishing out his collegiate career.
"He’s one of the best players in college basketball, and he’s had a lot of accolades, but he’s done even more off the basketball court," coach Rob Evans said. "Ike is probably the most honest person, basketball-wise, that I’ve ever been around."
There are legitimate reasons for Diogu to stay at ASU. If the NBA raises the minimum playing age to 20 in a new collective bargaining agreement, high school players won’t be eligible for the draft next June, and Diogu likely will be a lottery selection.
That could mean millions more in his bank account.
The 13th pick last year, Portland’s Sebastian Telfair, received a three-year deal worth $5.02 million. The 25th pick, Boston’s Tony Allen, signed a three-year contract for $2.8 million.
Thompson believes another year at ASU would benefit Diogu because he could work on the parts of his game that still need development, such as his outside shot and interior defense.
"There’s always room to improve on what people (NBA scouts) want to see," Thompson said.
That may be the case, but for every good reason Diogu has to stay, there’s a better reason for him to go.
What happens, for instance, if Diogu tears up a knee sometime during his senior season? He won’t be drafted in the first round, thus losing out on guaranteed money.
There are also physical realities for Diogu to consider. He’ll still be an undersized 6-foot-8 power forward next year, and he still won’t possess the athleticism NBA teams covet.
So just how much will another year in school help his draft status?
Talk to Diogu and you get the sense he’s looking for reasons not to leave ASU. He loves being a college student — "it really is the best time of your life," he said — and he’d like to end his Sun Devil career with another NCAA Tournament berth in his hip pocket.
But as the days roll by and Diogu’s stock continues to rise — an ESPN story this past weekend said he could be a late lottery selection — chances are he’ll listen to his head instead of his heart.
His departure will cripple an already wounded ASU basketball program — that’s a column for another day — but after three of the most unselfish years an athlete can give to a university, it’s time for Diogu to put himself first.
We’ll hate to see you go, Ike.
But we won’t blame you for leaving.