Basketball / B. League | B. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Former NBA forward Ike Diogu joins Susanoo Magic

by Ed Odeven

Nigeria national team captain Ike Diogu, a well-traveled former NBA player, will begin the next chapter of his pro career with the Shimane Susanoo Magic.

The announcement, made on Monday by the B. League first-division squad, came a couple weeks before the FIBA World Cup tips off in China.

“I am extremely excited to continue my career in Japan,” the 206-cm power forward said in a team-issued statement. “I am especially looking forward to meeting with and playing in front of the Shimane fans, as I have heard that they are some of the best in the country.

“I can’t wait to play hard and represent the organization with all I’ve got. See you at the games.”

In a June interview with the Arizona Republic, Diogu reflected on his longevity as a player.

“Year 15 coming up,” the 2005 Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year told the newspaper. “I’m still blessed to be playing.”

Shimane general manager Kentaro Hori cited Diogu’s extensive international playing experience as a key reason the team was interesting in signing Diogu, who turns 36 in September.

Hori described Diogu as a player with impressive physicality who is adept playing outside and inside, according to a news release.

“I would like to make full use of Diogu’s power to contribute to victories, and by sharing in his experience so far,” Hori said. “I would like him to improve our team (strength).”

At the 2017 FIBA AfroBasket, the most recent continental championship, Diogu was named tournament MVP, and Nigeria was the runner-up to Tunisia (losing 77-65 in the final) in Tunis. Diogu led all players in scoring (22.0 points per game) and was third in rebounds (8.7). He also played for Nigeria in the 2012 London Summer Olympics and 2016 Rio Games.

Diogu, the No. 9 pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, was a consensus second-team All-American as a junior at Arizona State, leading the Pac-10 (now the Pac-12) in scoring (22.6 points), rebounding (9.8) and block (2.3) per game. He was the first player in conference history to lead the league in all three categories in the same season, and was the first player since Stan Love of Oregon in 1969-70 and 1970-71 to top the scoring chart in back-to-back seasons after posting a 22.8 ppg average as a super sophomore.

Diogu played for six NBA teams (Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs) between 2005 and 2012. He appeared in 225 NBA games (18 starts). As a rookie, he played in a career-high 69 games for then-coach Mike Montgomery’s Warriors and averaged 7.0 ppg.

Years before the Warriors became a powerhouse team under coach Steve Kerr, Diogu gained mentorship from pre-Stephen Curry era players. In a 2006 interview with The State Press, ASU’s student newspaper, Diogu cited Calbert Cheaney and Derek Fisher as mentors.

“They do all types of things that really help you as a pro athlete,” Diogu told the publication. “Things beyond basketball like how to conduct yourself and how to dress and stuff.”

In the same interview, which almost seems like something unearthed from a time capsule 13½ years later, Diogu was also asked who was the first NBA player he dunked on. His response: “Shareef Abdur-Rahim. I didn’t really say anything really — it feels good to get your first dunk on somebody, but it’s not that big a deal in the NBA, it happens all the time.”

Abdur-Rahim is now the president of the NBA G League (formerly known as the NBA Development League).

Last season, the Susanoo Magic went 43-17 in B2 and earned promotion to the top flight. Bench boss Yukinori Suzuki is beginning his third season at the helm. (In 2017-18, Shimane had an 11-49 record in B1 and was demoted to the second division.)

After switching teams frequently in the NBA, Diogu career shifted to China (Xinjiang Flying Tigers) and Puerto Rico (Capitanes de Arecibo) to conclude the 2012 calendar year.

His 2012-13 season again featured two overseas gigs with the Chinese Basketball Association’s Guangdong Southern Tigers and Puerto Rico’s Leones de Ponce. From 2013-14, he also suited up for the NBA Development League’s Bakersfield Jam, and earned the D-League’s Impact Player of the Year award.

Five years later, Diogu’s hoop resume includes time with several more teams, including the Dongguan Legends and Jiangsu Monkey King, both in China.

While with the CBA’s Sichuan Blue Whales in the 2017-18 campaign, Diogu provided 28.7 points and 12.7 rebounds in 15 games, according to asia-basket.com. In 2018, he was back in Puerto Rico, appearing in 18 games for Vaqueros de Bayamon and supplying 17.3 points and 7.8 boards. Born in Buffalo, New York, Diogu was raised in Garland, Texas by his immigrant parents who moved to the United States in 1980.

In a 2008 interview with The Oregonian while he was playing for the Blazers, Diogu discussed one of his post-playing days aspirations. The newspaper also reported at the time that he owned more than 1,000 video games.

“I definitely want to get into the video game industry,” Diogu told The Oregonian. “People always ask me if there’s one thing I want to focus on. Is it the design aspect or is it the creative aspect? I’m kind of having a hard time deciding which one I want to settle on because it’s kind of like I want to do everything. I want to be in charge of the story. I also want to design things. I kind of want to do it all.”

Kurino’s next challenge

Jo Kurino, who will forever be known as the No. 1 overall draft pick (Oita HeatDevils) in bj-league history, has begun his coaching career, accepting an offer to join the Shinshu Brave Warriors coaching staff.

Kurino began his playing career with the JBL’s OSG Phoenix in 2003. He retired after the 2017-18 campaign, playing his last season for the B2’s Nagoya Fighting Eagles.

Earlier this month, the 39-year-old commented on his decision to begin the next phase of his basketball career with the defending B2 champions, who are led by bench boss Michael Katsuhisa. He noted that his work since retirement has continued in basketball, including overseeing and managing his Elitus Basketball Academy.

“I never left basketball,” Kurino said in a statement. “However, the chance to coach in Japan’s top league is not so easy to come (by), and I decided to join as a coach, thinking that I wanted to challenge myself.”

He added: “The Brave Warriors got great results last season. I’m proud that I have to do a job that suits this team. I would be happy if I could contribute not only as a coach, but also as an interpreter, communicating between the head coach and athletes, and the work that the team needs in each aspect.”

Kurino said he’ll aim to provide useful insights to the players and team staff, capitalizing on what he learned during his 15-year pro career.

“In the 2019-20 season, we aim to win the league, as the boosters have already expected,” he said. “We will do our best to meet the expectations of boosters.”

Joining the Ballooners

Gary Hamilton, who has anchored the middle for six professional teams in Japan over the past decade, has finalized a deal to play for the expansion B3 Saga Ballooners this season, the team announced on Tuesday.

The 208-cm Hamilton suited up for the Bambitious Nara last season. He averaged 10.9 points, 13.5 rebounds (No. 2 in the second division) and 7.5 assists, which led B2, in 53 games. He also contributed 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks per contest.

The University of Miami alum, who played for the Hurricanes from 2002 to 2006, was an integral part of the Shiga Lakestars under then-coach Bob Pierce in the 2009-10 campaign. After two seasons with Shiga, he moved on to the Rizing Fukuoka during the bj-league era, and later competed for the Osaka Evessa, Gunma Crane Thunders and Yamagata Wyverns before taking his talents to Nara.

Hamilton turned 35 on Aug. 7.

The last word

In a July 2004 interview with Suns.com, current Utsunomiya Brex guard Yuta Tabuse told the NBA team’s website what originally piqued his interested in the world’s top hoop circuit.

“When I was 8 or 9 years old I started to watch the Lakers and the Pistons,” Tabuse said a few months before making history as the first Japanese player in the NBA. “Since then I started thinking, ‘Oh man, the NBA’s cool.’ ”

And the rest is history. Tabuse has been the face of the franchise formerly known as the Tochigi Brex since 2008.

Feedback

Contact the reporter: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp

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