NORMAL — Dinma Odiakosa worked diligently in five years at Illinois State for a professional basketball career after college.
He regrets just one thing.
“I forgot to take any Spanish classes at ISU, so that came back to haunt (me),” he wrote in an e-mail last week.
Otherwise, Odiakosa is enjoying his first season as a pro with UB La Palma of the Spanish LEB Gold Division. The 6-foot-8, 255-pound Odiakosa, who was a first-team all-Missouri Valley Conference selection last season and the league’s defensive player of the year, is averaging 11.4 points and 6.2 rebounds in 14 games.
Odiakosa’s former ISU teammate, Osiris Eldridge, is playing well with Pinar Karsiyaka SK Izmir of the Turkish Basketball League. The 6-3 guard is contributing 11.5 points in 10 games, shooting 38.6 percent from 3-point range. During seven games in the EuroChallenge with SK Izmir, Eldridge has averaged 13.7 points and hit 47.1 percent outside the arc.
Efforts to reach Eldridge were unsuccessful.
Odiakosa said his team practices twice a day and plays one or two games a week. He would like to “get my rebounding up and keep my shooting consistent.” Odiakosa is shooting 53.8 percent from the field and, maybe a surprise to ISU fans, 64.2 percent at the free-throw line.
The biggest adjustment for Odiakosa “has been the culture of the place I play at.” Mainly, that is the language barrier.
“My coach speaks both English and Spanish,” said Odiakosa. “Often times he speaks Spanish and I am always seeking interpretation, which is funny but sometimes frustrating.”
Odiakosa said he keeps in contact with ISU coach Tim Jankovich and some of his former teammates. He has followed the Redbirds’ progress in an 8-3 start and believes they need to use their athleticism and run. Odiakosa won’t be able to make it back to ISU for a game this season, but has a piece of advice for the players.
“Individually, you’ve got to find time between classes to work on your game because there is never going to be enough time to do that,” he said. “That’s the biggest secret.”
Odiakosa and Eldridge are among eight former ISU players who are competing professionally all over the world.
• Champ Oguchi is the lone ex-Redbird in the NBA Development League. Oguchi is playing with the Maine Red Claws after a year in France. He has started nine of 12 games and is averaging 13.4 points and 3.6 rebounds while shooting 35.6 percent on 3-pointers and 89.2 percent at the free-throw line.
• Lloyd Phillips, the Redbirds’ point guard the last two seasons, is with the UBC Hannover Tigers in Germany. Phillips is averaging 9.0 points and has made 11-of-28 3-point attempts in 10 games.
• Emmanuel Holloway, who was an all-star with UBC Hannover last season, is with Basketbol Brno in the Czech Republic. He is playing 26.6 minutes per game and averaging 12.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 13 games.
• Anthony Slack is playing for Gmunden in the Austrian A League and averaging 8.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in nine games. Slack was with Holloway in Germany last season and in Ukraine the year before.
• Greg Dilligard has returned to Club Atletico Olimpia in Uruguay after spending a year in Sweden. Dilligard is averaging 14.0 points and 9.8 rebounds while shooting 57.5 percent from the field in 22 games.
• Baboucarr “Boo” Bojang, who played for ISU in 2002-03, is with BC Nokia in Finland and averaging 21.4 points and 15.5 rebounds in 11 games.
Jankovich sounds like a proud father when talking about his former players who are now pros. All except Dilligard and Bojang played for Jankovich, who came to ISU in March 2007.
“I love it. That’s what we set out to do. That’s why I hired Igor,” said Jankovich, referring to former administrative assistant Igor Vrzina, who had influential ties in international basketball circles. “Even though Igor is gone he still has been a big part in opening up those doors.”