- See more sharing options
- Copy Link URLcopied!
There is a warm-up exercisesan diego statethe basketball team takes three steps forward and then turns around. Step, step, step, turn.
"I avoid it," said Aguek Arop.
Something seemingly innocuous could trigger the dizziness that came out of nowhere in late January and left the versatile 6-foot-1 striker - "our Swiss army knife" as manager Brian Dutcher calls him - severely crippled for the final seven weeks of the season. It is also a mysterious symbol of your career.
Three steps forward... and everything is upside down.
Admits Arop: He made up his mind when he returned to Omaha, Neb., for the summer. The jaw, knee, hip and shoulder surgeries, the accidental illnesses, the hand cut off by a freak accident, the dizziness, it was just too much. It was a betrayal of his body. It was a sign.
He was finished. By early July, he had not returned to campus with his teammates. The plan was to enroll in classes for his senior year, serve as the team's glorious student manager, earn his chemistry degree, and move on to life after basketball.
This story is for subscribers
We offer subscribers exclusive access to our best journalism.
Thank you for your support.
"I just needed a break this summer," said Arop, who has worked at youth basketball camps serving Omaha's large Sudanese community. “I was just overwhelmed with so many emotions, the whole roller coaster ride. I had made my decision, but I think I got caught up in the moment. I went back to school and got used to it because I knew I didn't have the pressure of walking every day and all the effects on my body. I would jump in a drill if I could.
What exactly does that mean if the opening is coming up on November 9th?
Arop shrugs. Could he play this season, no.
"I really don't know," Arop said. "I don't want to give a timeline or percentages for anything. Let's take it day by day, listen to my body. I've had major surgeries over the years, and they've really bothered me. Right now I'm focusing on taking care of my body and seeing how he feels every day.
“I am very grateful for the support I received from my coaches. I really can't put into words how understanding she and my teammates were in letting me take this day in and day out knowing what I went through.
Dutcher has no problem with Arop's approach. He was the one who suggested it, the one who told Arop never to say never when he said the R-word in the summer, the one who gave him a whistle and made him lead segments five on five during fall practice - and let him know if he wanted to. skip to the exercises instead.
"It's really day-to-day," Dutcher said. "If he feels he's capable of going, we'll give him that opportunity. If he can't go, nobody blames us for having to hang up for a while. AG is a popular player. He cares about the right things. He's a great player. great kid, so having him on the show in any capacity is a bonus for all of us. He's like a different coach, on and off the court."
Arop arrived at SDSU healthy in 2018 after high school surgeries on his jaw and broken tibia. He was the best player on the court in the first intrasquad contest, scored 16 points on a variety of shots, defended all five positions, dominated the charts with his 7-1 break, and memorably hit a 6-9 NBA future shot. Beginners Jalen McDaniels.
A few days later he felt a twinge in his hip and he was never the same. He limped through the season and into Aprilhad hip impingement surgery, a procedure that regularly requires eight to ten months of rehabilitation.
He was waived at 5½ months, in time for the season opener, and approaching the bright potential he had shown as a freshman.he dislocated his shoulderin a game of chance fighting for a rebound at Colorado State. He sat out seven games, played three and cheered again. This led to off-season shoulder surgery and another summer of rehab.
He started last year's season opener with 10 points and four rebounds in a 73-58 win over a UCLA team that would go on to reach the Final Four. In January, he had 20 points in 23 minutes on 7-of-9 shooting in a two-game streak with Air Force.
Three days later, he showed up for a morning workout at the JAM Center not feeling well. He went back to his apartment and lay down while his roommate Jordan Schakel took a shower.
He stood up.
The room began to spin.
"I was like, 'There's something wrong with me, I have to tell Jordan,'" Arop said. "I've never experienced anything like this. I was really scared. I kind of tripped over it. I really couldn't stay on my feet. I was kind of freaking out. Everything flipped."
He felt better the next morning during the shootaround, only for the symptoms to return before the Wyoming home game. He would lose six of his last 13 games, including losing to Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament when the Aztecs desperately needed someone to score 6-6 Buddy Boeheim.
Step, step, step, turn.
"I would be fine after a few days," Arop said. "But then I woke up and said (coach Sergio Ibarra): 'I'm dizzy again. The same thing is happening now.' One day I felt great, another day I didn't."
He consulted one specialist after another, some of international renown. He tried different medications and treatments. But the dizziness works on its own, going away in a few days for some people and lasting for years for others.
Arop says doctors haven't identified a definitive cause and it persists, although he knows the triggers better and can avoid them. One of the worst cases is air travel, and he takes medicine before boarding.
However, it's hard to look beyond the next day, the next exercise. Maybe the court will change, maybe not.
His value isn't always quantifiable in a boxing score, but Dutcher has both compassionate and competitive reasons not to force Arop to make a premature decision about his senior season. He would have ranked second in the Mountain West in offensive rebound percentage if he accumulated enough minutes to qualify for the statistical category. It gives Dutcher the flexibility to play big or small as he can switch any screen. He also brings an infectious, intangible intensity that energizes his teammates, not to mention the Vieja arena.
"AG, if available, makes us dangerous," Dutcher said. "But we would never do anything to sacrifice a player's health."
His patient approach is guided by history. In 2011-12, senior forward Tim Shelton barely practiced with a pair of injured knees, but still made an important contribution in games, sealing the memorable regular season conference title with a 3-point play on an offensive rebound at TCU , which forced extensions. And last Saturday, after minimal training all month, Arop jumped into an intrasquad scrum and sneakily lured Nathan Mensah for an offensive foul.
"Tim's senior year was tough for us to coach, but he was so valuable in games that we found a way to put him down," Dutcher said. "And everybody knew it. He gave us everything he could give us. AG does that too.
“I think his body felt better coming back from the summer and being back with the guys and the team helped. He started to do some exercises with us and he felt really good in some of them and kept making progress. We don't pressure you to play. It's his decision. If he feels good, we'd like to have him. If not, we understand.”
tickets on sale
Single game tickets go on sale Friday at 9am for all home games at Viejas Arena. The Aztecs host Saint Katherine in an exhibition on Nov. 3 in a game that is unlikely to be televised, and they open the season on Nov. 9 at home to UC Riverside. Tickets are availableon-lineor by calling (619) 283-7378.