February 3, 2005
Answering media conference call questions as he drove through Corvallis Tuesday, Oregon State basketball coach Jay John was asked who his candidates for Pac-10 Player of the Year were at the midpoint of the season.
Jay pointed to Salim Stoudamire of Arizona, Chris Hernandez of Stanford, Nate Robinson and Tre Simmons of Washington, Dijon Thompson of UCLA.
Then he stopped.
A reporter asked if he intentionally left out Arizona State's Ike Diogu — the Pac-10’s leader in scoring (21.2 per game), rebounding (10.2), shot blocking (2.67) and minutes played (35.19).
Jay hit the mental brakes.
“You know, I'm driving in traffic and trying to avoid things so he ended up slipping my mind. But Ike belongs in there,'' John said. “Ike is just so doggone solid, sometimes you think that what he does is routine. What he's doing is magnificent."
But when magnificent takes a holiday, everyone — driving or not — notices.
For more than two years, the 6-foot-9, 255-pound Diogu has put the Sun Devils on his back. But after averaging 23.2 points and 10.4 rebounds during ASU's 13-2 start, the constant double- and sometimes triple-teaming by defenses is finally taking a toll.
Diogu still has been good, recording three double-doubles and playing great defense. But over the last six games, his point production is down (he's averaging 16 a game) and his rebounds are down a tick (9.6).
Suddenly, there is talk, with four Devils reaching double figures in the last two games, that ASU needs more from Diogu.
“You chuckle a little bit because people are always looking for that dominating performance by Ike against a big team — score 30 points — and that doesn't always happen,'' ASU coach Rob Evans said. “Look around the country and see how many guys had 15 points, 13 rebounds and two or three blocks against a ranked team. “People expect so much of Ike, but I told him a long time ago . . . be careful, because along with praise comes criticism. If you can't accept the criticism, don't accept the praise.”
Diogu never embraces praise, constantly deflecting it to his teammates. But he seems to be able to handle the heat. When ASU returns to action against surging Stanford tonight at Wells Fargo Arena, he'll simply go back to work.
“I'm not worried (about critics) at all and I'm not disappointed. That's how it is,'' Diogu said. “People are saying I'm not scoring enough, but I'm trying to do whatever it takes to win. I'm averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds (for the season) and I think I'm having a good season defensively. But winning is the only goal.''
Diogu's drop in point production can be traced to the free throw line. Far and away the nation's leader in free throw attempts (197) and makes (161), he has reached the line an average of only six times a game over that same stretch, including just one in Sunday's 79-70 loss to Washington.
When the conference season started, Evans noticed that slaps and pushes that were called as fouls in November and December were suddenly going uncalled in January.
“Some of the officials have told me, ‘Ike's a big, strong kid . . .' and sometimes officials expect that big, strong guy to complete plays even though he's getting fouled,'' Evans said. “You get the Shaq Factor. It's not right, but it happens. You have to play through it.''
Seeing red may help. Diogu has averaged 19.4 points and 10.4 rebounds against the Cardinal in his career.
“Ike is a very prideful person,'' Evans said. “If he senses that he has more to give or didn't do everything that he can do in one game, he tends to come back and rectify that situation."