‘A true teammate’: Shaped by his mother’s influence, Oso Ighodaro brings selfless spirit to Phoenix Suns

Phoenix Suns draft pick Oso Ighodaro, in his introductory press conference Tuesday at Player 15 Group headquarters, called himself “a good teammate, good locker room guy.” (Photo by Shirell Washington/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – In his four years at Desert Vista High School, Oso Ighodaro didn’t need to attend the mandatory tutoring program for basketball players underperforming academically – yet he did. Instead of basking in pride with one of the highest grade point averages on the basketball team and utilizing the potential free time to improve his game, the former four-star prospect assisted teammates struggling in the classroom.

Four years later, Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones introduced Ighodaro as the 40th selection in the 2024 NBA Draft, along with their first-round pick Ryan Dunn, at the Player 15 Group campus Tuesday.

During the press conference, Ighodora credited witnessing his mom’s selfless approach to life growing up and said he inherited the same attitude to become the teammate who lays down their life for the next.

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“My whole life, she’s always just been about others and prioritizing others over herself, and I think that definitely played a huge part in my life and is why I am the person I am today,” the 6-foot-10 center said. “I think that’s what makes me so special on the court: my care for others and how I get others involved. I’m a good teammate, good locker room guy, so I think … continuing to be myself and bringing that to the NBA is something that I am looking to do.”

Jones admitted that the Suns hoped to add “guys that embodied all the characteristics that traditionally have made the Phoenix Suns a great franchise.”

“Guys that love the game, they play with passion, they’re great teammates, great role models, hard workers, diligent, charismatic, but most importantly passionate about the game of basketball and … the history of basketball here in Phoenix,” he continued.

The Suns front office didn’t only converse with Ighodaro during the pre-draft process – they called those familiar with the Chandler native and learned that the 21-year-old expressed a maturity uncommon to many his age, no matter the setting.

“Everyone you speak to about Oso, every single player, every single coach, talks about his willingness to do whatever it takes to set his teammates up for success,” Jones said. “So if that’s being a vocal leader, great. If that means being an effort leader, great. If that means being a silent leader, fine.

“What I did appreciate and what I did find out about him through the draft process was that he would compete not against his teammates but more so with them. Even when they had competitive drills, if he won or if he loss, he was always looking to make sure people were good. That’s the sign of a true teammate.”

Ighodaro developed those intangible leadership traits through trial.

During Ighodora’s senior year of high school in 2020, former Desert Vista coach Gino Crump was suspended but reinstated before the season ended after a physical incident with one of his players.

“It was a quite tumultuous year for all of us,” Crump told Cronkite News. “He was one of the reasons we remained steady. He was one of the reasons why we kept moving in the right direction. He was team captain, and he was just a guy I leaned on during that whole turmoil.”

Adversity turned to triumph as Ighodaro led Desert Vista to the 6A state title in his final season. Now he will undoubtedly face challenges in the NBA, but his senior year four years ago has prepared him to be a shepherd when the Valley gets dark.

“I learned a lot during that year,” Ighodaro said. “(I) learned to have a leadership role and to really embrace that. I think that the culture that we started in high school helped me in college and hopefully will continue to help me at the NBA level. So just continuing to be who I am and embracing culture and leadership and all those steps, even as a young player, is something that I’m going to look forward to doing.”

James Jones, the Phoenix Suns’ president of basketball operations and general manager, presents 28th overall pick Ryan Dunn with his jersey Tuesday. (Photo by Shirell Washington/Cronkite News)

James Jones, the Phoenix Suns’ president of basketball operations and general manager, presents 28th overall pick Ryan Dunn with his jersey Tuesday. (Photo by Shirell Washington/Cronkite News)

Ighodaro decided to leave Arizona and attend the University of Marquette, where he experienced success during his four years as a Golden Eagle. He earned academic awards each season, including Big East Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year as a senior in 2024. He averaged 13.4 points per game in his final season at Marquette, propelling him to back-to-back All-Big East Second Team selections.

Jones looks forward to Ighodaro exercising his full potential.

“He’s a guy from an athletic standpoint that has so many gifts that he just needs the opportunity to display,” Jones said. “And I think you saw it in college; there’s not a lot of space. In college, the game is, I’d say, bounded. We hope to unbound him and allow him to excel, and I think he’ll do well right from the jump.”

Ighodaro now gets to drive to Footprint Center, enter the locker room, tie his laces and share the court with Kevin Durant, a player he watched growing up. New teammates like Durant and recent free agent acquisition Mason Plumlee will be at his disposal. There are few expectations for a second-round draft pick, but people like Crump believe his selection doesn’t define his worth.

“I wish he was a higher draft pick,” he said. “He should have been, but a lot of teams are going to regret not drafting him higher than he was.”

Despite 29 other teams overlooking Ighodaro, he is content with his destination.

“This is just a blessing to be here, on this team, with this organization…Super excited to be here and get to work.”

(Video by Marco Radice-Morras/Cronkite News)
Sports Digital Reporter, Phoenix

Joshua Heron expects to graduate in August 2024 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Heron served as a sports reporter for The Hilltop, Howard University News Service, and social-impact brand FISLL as an undergrad at Howard University. He also worked as a freelance reporter for Capital News. His interview series, “Wagwan In Life,” hosts people across multiple professions. Heron produced “Championship Culture,” a documentary highlighting the Howard women’s basketball team. He was a 2023 National Geographic HBCU Media Scholar and former My Brother’s Keeper Fellow.

Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Marco Radice-Morras expects to graduate in December 2024 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Radice-Morras will intern as a reporter for Telemundo Arizona in the fall.

Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Shirell Washington expects to graduate in August 2024 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Washington has worked for Virginia Wesleyan University Athletic Communications and Arizona State University Stream Team.