PULLMAN -- Ike Iroegbu’s ears have to be burning by now. In recent weeks, Royce Woolridge, DaVonté Lacy and Ken Bone have all, independently, praised the Washington State freshman’s development at point guard. Iroegbu himself tells Cougfan.com he’s been working hard on the court, during and after practice, and devouring film with assistant coach Curtis Allen.
"I knew to earn my players’ confidence I had to play hard every time I was on the court and I felt that helped me gain their confidence," he said in an interview the other day. "I knew I had to do certain things like when it came to knowing the plays quicker and setting them up for shots and telling them good job all the time. I felt like that made them gain confidence in me."
With JC transfer Danny Lawhorn no longer with the team, Ike Iroegbu’s proficiency at the point would seem one of the keys to the Cougars’ season.
He’s unlikely to start, given Woolridge’s experience and development at point guard over the last year, but it’s clear Woolridge can’t play the point every minute of every game, particularly with the new pressure defense the Cougs are planning to deploy. Moreover, Bone would love to give Woolridge increased minutes at his original home, the 2 guard, because of his scoring proficiency.
“I’ve just been listening to everything the coaches, Royce, and all the veterans have been telling me," Iroegbu says. "I know I’m going to mess up because that’s what freshman do, mess up. When they correct me I make sure that I’m not going to mess up at that thing again.”
There's also another person who has Iroegbu's ear -- one who doesn't spare the criticism or disappointment when things don't go right.
"He's hard on himself, too hard on himself," Bone told CF.C this week. "He believes he can do it, but is his own biggest critic. You'll see that with the body language -- it's something we need to work on."
But make no mistake, the coach says: "He's going to be good, I'll tell you that. Cougar fans are going to love this kid."
While Iroegbu played both guard positions at prep powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, Bone said last week that he envisions Iroegbu strictly at the point this first season because the learning curve at that spot is so steep.
"That’s something I prefer over the two. I’d like to play the one,” Iroegbu says. “I just like to control the offense and I get a lot of pleasure in making my teammates better and getting them the ball in spots where they can score and setting up plays where I can help my team."
The speed of the game, the focus on defense, the expectations of fans -- Iroegbu says he’s ready for all of it.
The Iroegbu File |
Elk Grove, Calif.
Narrowed list to WSU and Virginia Tech
Iroegbu shot 50 percent from the field last season and 75 percent from the free-throw line. He averaged just less than 10 points and 4 assists per game while playing roughly half time in Oak Hill’s spread-the-minutes approach.
Parents are Nigerian immigrants
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The key is intensity, and bringing it every night, he adds.
“I know I’m going to hear when I have a good game and I know I’m going to hear when I have a bad game. I’m not really worried about that. I just want to help my team win. I know there’s going to be pressure regardless because I’m a freshman but yeah I’m ready for all that.”
As for the recent Pac-12 media poll that forecast the Cougs for a last-place conference finish, Iroegbu is succinct in response: “They shouldn’t sleep on us,” he said.
“We feel like we’re really underrated this year and we’re just going to show people this year what we can do. I feel like by the end of the year we’re going to shock the world and show people we’re a good team, win 20-plus games and that we’re a great defensive team.”
IF IROEGBU’S LAST NAME SOUNDS FAMILIAR, it is. His older brother Chuks Iroegbu played for the Cougars as a walk on in 2011-12.
“Me and my big brother Chuks, we’re close, Chuks has always been there for me and I’ve always been there for him,” Ike said. “We talk all the time and we have a great relationship. We just check up on each other, see how we’re doing, how things are going, we talk a lot.”
Ike said when he was considering universities, Chuks praised the WSU atmosphere but ultimately it was his own experience and the ability to have family somewhat nearby which won him over.
“In the end he told me it’s my decision and he didn’t want to push me towards here. At the end of the day I felt like WSU was the best fit for me out of all my other schools I was looking at.”
“Me going to Oak Hill (in Virginia), my parents couldn’t watch me play as much, I wanted to come back here so my parents could come out and watch me play.”
That time at Oak Hill was career changing.
“I feel like if I didn’t go to Oak Hill I wouldn’t be as good as a player as I am now and as prepared for the Pac-12 and college basketball in general as I am now,” Iroegbu says. “Oak Hill helped me a lot with taking care of my body, with weights and getting a high basketball IQ.”
Counting Iroegbu, Oak Hill has sent 12 players on to receive Division I college basketball scholarships over the last two seasons. The school is widely considered the top prep basketball program in the nation, and has produced a number of NBA stars, including Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rando and Ty Lawson.
Iroegbu said the intense practices and the winning mentality which Oak Hill instilled in its players aided in his preparation for the Pac-12.
“I learned a lot and when we go play games we’d go in with the mindset that we’re going to win by 20 or 30 and there would be times we’d end up winning by 40 points,” he said. “We played basketball like t three different times a day; in the morning, the afternoon and then pickup games at night. So it’s all about playing basketball at Oak Hill and I like that lot.”
Oak Hill head coach Steve Smith told CF.C earlier this year that he expects greats things from Iroegbu in Pullman.
"I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t have a really good career at Washington State. He’s a freak athlete. He’s going to be on the highlight tapes," Smith said. "There’s really nothing to hold him back ... He’s big and strong and can compete with juniors and seniors -- you’re going to like his physique, there’s not an ounce of fat."