In what was a crucial game Friday night against a very good St. Mary’s Gaels team, SDSU got a huge contribution from Aguek Arop.
Before the season began, it was unsure whether Arop would even be playing college basketball, let alone providing a big role off the bench for this Aztecs team in a meaningful, resume-building game.
Arop’s career can best be described as injury-riddled and sometimes just plain unlucky. He has gone through a multitude of health problems, from hip and shoulder injuries to his battle with vertigo. Even though his availability hasn’t always been consistent, one thing that has been is his energy and effort he gives when he’s on the floor. “Whether he gives us 1 minute or 10 minutes to 20 minutes, I know it’s going to be as hard as he can go,” said head coach Brian Dutcher in the post-game press conference.
In the game against St. Mary’s, Arop was playing so hard that he was visibly tired, resulting with a missed dunk on a fast break. As alluded to by coach Dutcher, he “hasn’t practiced in two weeks. He came out, did a walkthrough, and stepped out and played.” His legs and conditioning had caught up to him a little bit. Both Matt Bradley and Trey Pulliam laughed about the dunk attempt when asked about it after the game. In typical Arop fashion, though, after the miss, he raced back down the court and secured the defensive rebound on the ensuing possession.
Dutcher compared Arop’s ability of not practicing but stepping up and producing when needed to the likes of Tim Shelton, who was so injured his senior year, he rode a bike every practice but was still able to step into the games and compete at a high level.
When available, though, Arop uses his 7’1” wingspan and athleticism to the best of its abilities. On offense, he was able to use his quickness to move past bigger, slower defenders while also using his length to hit the offensive glass and punish smaller defenders. He showed that quickness when he drove by a bigger Gaels defender from the three-point line and finished with a sweeping left-handed layup in the first half.
Defensively, Arop can legitimately guard all five positions making him extremely versatile on that end of the floor. His defensive versatility was on full display late in the second half against the Gaels as he played some very important minutes as the center in the Aztecs small-ball lineup. Although he was giving up four inches in height, he shut down Matthias Tass on numerous possessions, including a steal. He also switched onto the Gaels point guard, Tommy Kuhse, and did not allow him to score either.
Arop did a ton of work on the offensive glass, including a huge offensive rebound off a Bradley miss which he then kicked out to Adam Seiko for a wide-open three. This gave the Aztecs a 57-48 lead with just under four minutes left, and they never looked back from there.
Multiple times throughout his career, Arop has been described as a swiss army knife, being able to do a bit of everything on the court. In 11 minutes, most of any bench player for SDSU, against St. Mary’s, Arop’s stat line read three points, five rebounds(three offensive), one assist, and two steals, living up to that swiss army knife description. If the Aztecs are going to have a successful year, Arop’s energy and versatility off the bench is going to be a big reason why.
“(AG) is a warrior,” Bradley added. “He is a leader. He is a great teammate and friend on and off the court, so just going into the game, I felt really confident. … AG definitely brings it to the table regardless of his personal condition.”