Ike Diogu: “The Greatest Honour Is To Represent 200 Million People”

When it comes to the topic of basketball in Nigeria, the first name that comes to mind is always Ike Diogu, the captain of the national team, the vastly experienced power forward who has seen it and done it all at the highest level.

The big power forward sat down with COSeezy to discuss his eventful life and career in an episode of Africans In Sports giving a unique insight into his childhood, career and the path that took him to where he is today.

“All my family is from Nigeria, even my brothers were born in Nigeria. My parents immigrated to the U.S for education purposes, my dad got a scholarship to the University of Buffalo to study his doctorate degree in philosophy, he came over to the U.S in 1980 and we’ve been in the U.S ever since.”

Ike himself summed it up saying “I grew up in the US as a Nigerian, I went to a Nigerian church, the community I was in, I grew up around a lot of people that were just like me with Nigerian parents”.

“It’s normal to come home and not hear people speaking English, music, all of that, that was my childhood, when I left the house is when I went to school, got to speak English with all of my friends, but at home, it was really no different from if I was in Nigeria, that’s how my parents raised me.”

Diogu is proudly Nigerian, through and through, and his passion for the country is what has inspired other foreign-born Nigerians to want to associate with and represent their country proudly.

Ike speaks on his interest in sports coming from the fact that his brothers played sports, “All the boys were athletes, my brothers played (American) football, one of my brothers played at the University of Texas, my other brother played at the University of Tennessee”

“I originally grew up playing football because I wanted to be like my brothers, my brothers were my heroes, but I also noticed that I was taller than my brothers, and I kept getting taller.”

“Initially I didn’t really like basketball cos I really wanted to play football, i wanted to go the NFL, be a tight end like my brother, but I just fell in love with the game of basketball man, and that’s where it all started in Garland, Texas.”

Diogu spoke on his high school days, “I had a lot of fun at Garland, ’cause coming in as a freshman 6″4 and then leaving as a senior 6″9, I just never would have imagined that I would have made the jump that I made.”

“I think what made me stand out is, I was able to be a bruiser-type player, but I was also skilled, I think that set me apart from a lot of people,” Ike told COSeezy during the interview.

Standing at 6 foot 9 inches, Diogu was considered slightly undersized for a power forward going into his college career, but he made up for his lack of height with his muscle, girth and 7’4″ wingspan and excelled at Arizona State University where he garnered several honors, including the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, and then Pac-10 Player of the Year in his final season as a Junior. 

Diogu declared for the 2005 NBA draft, and he was eager to share the details of that day from his own perspective. “My best friend came over at the time, my aunt and my uncle came over, they watched it in my house with my mom and my dad, and with my brother and we watched the draft.”

“I got to the number 9th pick, I knew that’s the highest I could go, I’ve never seen my parents scream so loud and my uncle who’s really reserved, he was happy, that to me was more exciting than I guess everything else, seeing how happy everybody else was.”

For reasons best known to him, Ike Diogu never really made the kind of impact he was expected to make in the NBA but he remains confident it had nothing to do with his ability.

“The NBA career, it definitely had its ups and downs, I don’t think that I really got to do what I wanted to do in the NBA, there were flashes but obviously when you get to the business side, there’s certain things you don’t really foresee coming in your basketball career.”

“The thing about it is, if I got to the NBA and skill-wise I wasn’t good enough, then I could be like, yeah you know what, the NBA was just heads and shoulders better than me, but since that wasn’t the case I have no regrets at all, I had some big games in the NBA.”

Speaking on the downsides to his career, Diogu said, “Life is always gonna throw curveballs at you, I don’t know nobody in life that didn’t go through the struggle, so you gotta go through the struggle to reach the top.”

Diogu has been playing with the senior men’s Nigeria national basketball team since 2011 and he has competed at two Summer Olympics in 2012 and 2016 with a potential for the 3rd one in 2021.

He is currently the team captain and was named MVP of the 2017 FIBA Afrobasket tournament which Nigeria won with him leading from the front, averaging 22 points, 8.7 rebounds in the tournament. 

Being able to represent Nigeria is a privilege Ike Diogu is grateful for, “The greatest honour is to be able to represent 200 million people” he told Coseezy. 

“Growing up, I can’t say that I’ve ever envisioned being able to represent the country in Nigeria like I am, especially being the captain, so that’s the highest honour for me.”

“We don’t play on the national team for any type of glory or anything, we play because we want to be here and we want to get Nigeria to where it has to be.” Diogu further added on what it means to play for the D’Tigers.

Diogu also has a great vision for Nigerian basketball, ahead of himself, he passionately states that Nigeria would be at the same level as the United States of America if they could get all their top players of Nigerian descent in the NBA to kit up for the national team.

“When it’s all said and done, you know, for us to be right up there with the U.S, some people think that’s crazy, but for me not when I see all the talent that we have, Nigeria has never really been able to get the best of the best to suit up for the country.”

“The greatest player that ever came from the continent of Africa was Hakeem Olajuwon of Nigeria, and he never suited up for the national team, so those are the type of things we wanna make sure to avoid in the future”

Diogu further went on to admonish the likes of Bam Adebayo, Victor Oladipo, Giannis Antetokounmpo and other NBA stars of Nigerian descent to take pride in representing their country.

He continued to spread the positive message of hope about the D’Tigers, stating “There are so many talented Nigerians all over the world, not even in the U.S, there’s a lot of guys coming.”

Ike Diogu knows what it means to be an ambassador for the national team, he admits there’s been some ups and downs, the downs including logistical issues and players not being motivated to play for the country, but ultimately he’s glad he stuck with the process and the situation is much better now.

“Things are getting better but in years past, we haven’t always stayed in the best hotels so we’ve had to just to be like, I know it’s like this right now, but its gonna be better.”

“I’m just proud to be one of the pioneers that set into motion representing Nigeria, playing for Nigeria and getting the thing turned around to where we know it can be.”

And Ike’s impact in the team is undeniable, basketball in Nigeria has grown in leaps and bounds since 2011 when he first joined the team, the D’Tigers are now the best team in Africa, set to make a third consecutive appearance at the Olympics. 

The team is now a global brand, with an American coach of high reputation, making the prospect of playing for Nigeria far more enticing for top players all around the world, Ike Diogu deserves the credit he is getting.