After suffering injuries, Aguek Arop discovers faith to persevere through adversity

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Then-sophomore forward Aguek Arop attempts a layup during the Aztecs’ 68-55 win over Nevada on Jan. 18 at Viejas Arena.

by Jason Freund, Staff Writer

Junior forward Aguek Arop is a men’s basketball player at San Diego State. He gets a full-ride scholarship, plays on one of the most notable teams in the nation and is recognized by virtually every student on campus.

The glitz and glamor of a college basketball player are well documented. What isn’t documented are the struggles a player goes through when playing.

Arop has seen his fair share of struggles.

His freshman season was plagued with a painful hip injury that he played through. After the season, Arop got surgery on his hip to repair damage to his labrum.

He returned to the team for his sophomore season, bringing the same versatility. Coming off the bench, Arop played in 22 games while logging an average of 9.9 minutes per game.

Then April arrived, and along with it the news that he needed more surgery: this time, on his shoulder.

For Arop, it was yet another obstacle in a life filled with them.

Born in Khartoum, Sudan, Arop moved to Egypt to avoid a brutal civil war before ultimately arriving in Houston. From Houston, Arop and his family moved to Omaha, Nebraska where Arop began to play basketball.

“There were a lot of outside influences from where I was from and my neighborhood,” Arop said. “Basketball gave me something to focus on.”

Arop quickly found success on the court, being named the 2016 Nebraska Gatorade Player of the Year and committing to SDSU over schools like Wichita State and Texas.

Then came the injuries. Combined with the strain of being away from home and past traumas, Arop found himself in a bad mental state.

Through rehabilitation, Arop was making progress to return back from his injuries, but he needed a place to recharge. That place just happened to be five minutes from his apartment at the SDSU Newman Center.

As described on their website, the Newman Center is a Roman Catholic center located on school grounds that provides “a place for students to form friendships, worship, and nurture their faith while attending San Diego State University.”

Arop credits his former strength and conditioning coach Andrew Mitchell for introducing him to the center.

“(Mitchell) invited me to check out an event called XLT,” Arop said. “It was praise and worship but it was my first step into Newman.”

Mitchell, now the strength and conditioning coach at TCU, said there was a mutual interest in the Catholic faith between him and Arop. 

“There was an exchange of commonalities where we were both Catholic,” Mitchell said. “At that point, I started to take more of an interest in things that were off-the-court.”

Despite Mitchell leaving for TCU a year later, he and Arop remain in contact with each other to discuss topics ranging from basketball to faith.

“We try and reach out at least once a week,” Mitchell said. “When you make a bond with someone in your faith life, some of those boundaries in a typical coach-player mentorship, some of those things you share in the faith transcend the typical boundaries of conversation.

The experience was a positive one for Arop and he found himself continuing to attend Sunday mass and various events held at the Newman Center.

“I was in a pretty bad mental state and dealing with a lot of things,” Arop said. “I was trying to find ways to cope with it and when I was at the praise and worship and I realized what I was looking for was Jesus.”

His renewed drive to better his mental state through his faith didn’t go unnoticed with his fellow church-goers. A well-known basketball player was an uncommon sight at the Newman Center, but Arop quickly became a regular and formed new relationships.

Eventually, Arop would meet Josh Schroeder, who currently resides at the Newman Center. Schroeder initially believed Arop wouldn’t give him the time of day, but a friendship formed as Arop continued to join more events at the church.

What impressed Schroeder the most was Arop’s character and his drive to improve himself in every aspect of his life.

“That guy (Arop) is very driven… he is a great person,” Schroeder said. “I don’t know how else to describe him. He is good at basketball, he works hard when he reads for fun, he works hard when he reads for school. He cares about the people he is with.”

After the two continued to learn more about each other, an idea was formulated: lead a Bible study group.

Arop was initially against it. He was still new to the Newman Center and felt that he didn’t have much to offer. He was still learning about himself and his faith, after all.

However, the more he discovered about himself and his faith, the more inclined he was to begin the group.

“I thought I didn’t have much to bring to the table regarding faith,” Arop said. “As time went on, I realized if I could be that someone who could bring someone closer to Christ… that was my opportunity to do so.”

Arop and Shroeder then began their Bible study group. With the lessons Arop learned over the past months, he shared those with the students who joined him each week.

At first, it wasn’t easy. As the weeks went on and the meetings became regular, Arop became comfortable with his role as a leader while speaking about his experiences with both his faith and his life.

Now, with the basketball season approaching, Arop is physically ready for the season. With his shoulder healed, he’ll be able to perform on the court as per usual.

His resolve, however, has never been stronger. With his newfound faith and growth, Arop is set to take on an expanded role as a leader among his teammates — one he admits he wouldn’t have been prepared for had he not faced the obstacles he was presented.

“It puts me in a leadership position that I was very uncomfortable with at first,” Arop said. “We all have different stories and being able to relate with each and every one of our guys. It is a whole set of new challenges that brings a lot of growth ultimately.”

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