Nigeria’s Ike Diogu uses the Olympic stage as his last chance to audition for NBA teams

Kelly Dwyer

To quite a few NBA followers, this one included, Ike Diogu's inability to hold down a consistent gig in that league is more than a little frustrating. Yes, the undersized power forward has his issues defensively -- and he probably should be trusted to helm a pass-first Princeton offense that asks big men to hit cutters all night -- but he remains pretty adept at two significant things -- scoring efficiently, and rebounding. And while working on Nigeria's team in the 2012 Olympics, the 28-year-old has kept that up in international play, leading his team to London with a masterful turn in the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament, and holding down the low post (no small feat, in international play) as Nigeria took down Tunisia earlier this week.

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The honeymoon away from that disappointing NBA career only lasted so long. Diogu's Nigerian team lost to Lithuania Tuesday. And he'll be asked to lead his group against Team USA Thursday, a squad that often features a man Diogu's size, in LeBron James, working as a point guard while critics harp about the "undersized" rotation. Diogu, in talking with the Arizona Republic's Dan Bickley, remains undeterred:

"I'm not intimidated or in awe of those guys," Diogu said. "I definitely know I can hold my own against anybody, and anybody who knows basketball knows that I can play at the highest level. The reason why I'm not in the NBA is not because of my skill set or skill level or not being able to play against those guys."

Frankly, outside of the knowledge that we haven't been a fly on the wall in the six different NBA locker rooms that Diogu has been a part of, we don't know why he isn't in the NBA.

Just 18 starts since being drafted in the lottery by the Golden State Warriors in 2005. Six points and three rebounds per game on average, but that hardly tells the story when you realize that he managed that in just 12 minutes a contest. Diogu's career averages of 17.4 points and 8.9 rebounds a game per 36 minutes of play make no sense in comparison to the ways he's bounced around, with the minutes that have gone up and down.

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Even that makes no sense. The minutes have never been "up."

No, he cannot defend. A litany of longtime NBA scoring big forwards have turned in long careers at the position without being able to defend, working as the first big man off the bench, able to provide some scoring punch early in second quarters while the team's max-salaried point guard takes a breather and scopes out the potential party-mates in the front row from the pine. We're not trying to tell you that Diogu needs to start on your favorite team. What we are trying to convey, as has been the case since Donald Rumsfeld was a working member of the Bush Administration, is that he can help your favorite team's rotation.

Compare his work to that of Carl Landry, the cheery scoring forward who just signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Warriors. Landry, like Diogu, was hamstrung by an ACL tear earlier in his career, and he was born eight days after Diogu. Like Ike (over 500 words in, we finally found a way to use that!), Landry is a bit of a nonexistent defender, but he makes up for it by averaging 17.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per 36 minutes.

So, same age nearly to the day, same limitations, same scars, and same production. And yet Landry's signing with Golden State was met with a league-wide, "ooh, good pickup" nod, and Diogu had to play in China last year.

What are we missing?

(We have NBA League Pass, you know.)

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Diogu, in talking with Bickley, isn't as catty as we're acting:

"It's been frustrating," he said. "I've been in situations that weren't the best situations, and the one thing I realize is not everyone is going to be a real big fan of your game. I've been with coaches who weren't responsible for drafting me, so they don't have any loyalty to me and don't feel like they have to play me.

"I've had some unfortunate injuries, and every situation I've been wasn't beneficial to me. That's life. That happens. But when you start bouncing around, you get labeled as a journeyman, and it follows you everywhere."

That's pretty astute, Ike Diogu. One bad turn (say, with since-fired coaches like Mike Montgomery or Jim O'Brien) leads to a reputation. Then an injury hits, you're still 6-8, and the damn backup point guard won't pass you the ball while you're trying to make the team's second unit. Before you know it, you're playing in a league that builds statues for Stephon Marbury.

Diogu turns 29 next month, eight days before Carl Landry does. He's in the midst of entering his athletic prime, and he appears to have a good attitude despite being passed over by six different teams. If given a chance, and minutes, he's been a proven NBA contributor. He'll be hounded into submission, likely, by Team USA on Thursday, but in-prime Karl Malone working on the Nigerian team by himself would have trouble against that squad.

Follow that up with an NBA invite, and spot in an NBA rotation, NBA teams. While you still have the chance.

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