March 5, 2005
He’s going to lead the Pac-10 in scoring for the second year in a row and is running neck-and-neck with Arizona’s Salim Stoudamire in the race for the conference’s player of the year award.
He has been named to almost every All-American team in the country over the last two years and he is creeping into the Pac-10 record books in several career categories even though he has played only three years.
But if Arizona State star Ike Diogu leaves for the greener pastures of the NBA after his junior season — if today’s regular season finale against Arizona is his final game at Wells Fargo Arena — was Diogu’s magnificent ASU career diminished by his school’s inability to make the most of his time in Tempe?
Will one of the best players ever to wear a Sun Devils uniform leave any legacy at all?
Through rain, sleet and snow, through defenses designed to stop him with double, triple and quadruple coverage, Diogu has continued to produce his 20 points, 10 rebounds and several highlights a game. Unselfish and focused, he has pushed the frustrations and distractions aside and led his team with a quiet, "follow me’’ mentality.
But his supporting cast has let Diogu down. The Sun Devils reached the NCAA tournament when Diogu was a freshman — beating Memphis before falling to Kansas in the second round — but no other Sun Devil has averaged more than 12.7 points per game over the last two seasons. And except for an unlikely march through next week’s Pac-10 tournament, the Sun Devils (18-11, 7-10 Pac-10) will miss the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
"He’s definitely disappointed,’’ ASU senior guard Jason Braxton said of his teammate and friend. "He’s a competitor and a winner, and he plays great every night, but we haven’t gotten the job done around him.
"He’s one of the elite players in the country, but he can’t get all the recognition because we aren’t winning enough. He’s still optimistic that we can get something done this year, but I know it hurts him.’’
The complementary players necessary to make Diogu even more effective haven’t been there. Some of that comes from bad recruiting, some from bad timing.
The cupboard was bare when coach Rob Evans arrived in 1998 to pick up the pieces from the ASU pointshaving scandal. Evans had to play the core of his 2003 NCAA tournament team as freshmen back in 1999-2000 — Tommy Smith, Shawn Redhage, Kyle Dodd and Tanner Shell. If some or all had redshirted, they would have been around to help last year, when the Devils went 10-17 and finished last in the Pac-10 (4-14) despite 22.8 points and 8.9 rebounds from Diogu.
But that doesn’t explain away this season, when ASU roared through its nonconference schedule at 11-1 and was planing for March Madness in early January. It doesn’t explain being swept by USC, blowing a home lead to Cal and letting a win at Washington State slip away last weekend. Go 2-2 in those games, and ASU would be taking 20 wins and a 9-8 conference mark into play today.
But the Sun Devils didn’t. And they don’t. And that might be all for the Ike Diogu Era.
Even if Diogu follows in the footsteps of quarterback Andrew Walter and stays for his senior season to tend to unfinished business, there is no guarantee things will get better. Even if Evans remains for an eighth season — Diogu said this week it’s the only way he could imagine remaining at ASU — Braxton and guard Steve Moore won’t be back and the team that remains will have to make big strides to get the Devils into the top half of the conference picture.
Publicly, Diogu remains optimistic. As long as a glimmer of hope remains, he will point toward it and keep playing.
"People know what I’ve done here, so I pretty much don’t worry about the recognition,’’ Diogu said. "I look at all of it as a challenge. Even with the time we have left this season, I feel like if we come in with the right mind-set we can shock a lot of people. I’m ready to accept the challenge, I’m not running away from everything.
‘‘There are a lot of people around here who are chalking up this season as a disappointment and a waste,’’ Diogu said. ‘‘But there are still a lot of ballgames left to play, and our goals are still attainable. I think we are a good team, better than what people give us credit for. We have to prove it (today) and we have to prove it in the Pac-10 tournament.’’
One more game in Tempe. And for the Diogu Era, maybe one last chance.
Arizona at ASU
Records: Arizona 24-5, 14-3 Pac-10; Arizona State 18-11, 7-10
Series history: Arizona leads the overall series 133-73 and has won 19 of the last 20 meetings. The Wildcats opened Pac-10 play with a 97-79 win over ASU on Jan. 2 in Tucson, with Channing Frye (21 points), Mustafa Shakur (20) and Salim Stoudamire (18) leading the way.
Scouting report: Wildcats — There is plenty on the line for Arizona. A win clinches at least a tie for the Pac-10 championship — Arizona’s 11th — and would give coach Lute Olson 305 career conference wins, passing John Wooden for No. 1 on the all-time list. Stoudamire also wants a big game to make up for a subpar weekend in Washington and sway voters in the Pac-10 Player of the Year race.
Sun Devils— Now safely in the Pac-10 tournament, ASU will finish either sixth or seventh in the conference depending on today’s result. Ike Diogu will try to become the third player in history to lead the conference in points and rebounds. Guard Jason Braxton will become the fourth ASU player to make 100 starts, joining Eddie House (114), Ron Riley (109) and Alex Austin (100). Diogu needs to make four free throws to pass Stanford’s Adam Keefe (652) for second place on the all-time Pac-10 list. He needs only one attempt to pass UCLA’s Don MacLean (827) for second.
4 p.m. today, Fox Sports Net Arizona, ESPN (860 AM)