Not taking the game for granted.

Aztec Forward Aguek Arop has come along way since starting his journey in South Sudan.

“We fled there when I was about one to Egypt, lived in Egypt for a little over three years, then came to America when I was four,” said Arop.

Once he started playing basketball at SDSU, his health quickly declined. He ended up having hip surgery during his freshman year and shoulder surgery in the midst of his sophomore year. 

“Had a huge mental breakdown — just from all the injuries and from being in pain all the time, said Arop. “I felt like it was time for me to give it up.”

Fearing that he would have to forfeit his scholarship, he spoke with Aztec head coach Brain Dutcher who allowed Arop to stay on the team without having to practice. 

“Sigh of relief — getting to keep my scholarship and just knowing Dutch appreciated me as a person, which mean a lot,” said Arop.

Coach Dutcher’s strategy has helped improve his health. 

“This season actually is the first season I went 15 games straight without anything happening to me, so it was a real blessing,” said Arop. “So I praise God for that.”

That wasn’t the only obstacle he overcame. Between class, work and playing basketball, he recently became a United States citizen.

“On my own, I’ve been trying since freshman year like when I first got to San Diego State. I got denied. This past year I got help from Catholic charities, provided me a lawyer. The moment was just surreal. I didn’t expect to feel like that. I was extremely grateful,” said Arop.

Arop recently earned his bachelor’s degree and is now working on a masters degree in homeland security. The student athlete said basketball is cool, but impacting his community is a slam dunk. 

“When I was growing up, we didn’t have a great of look. We were in the news for all the wrong things. Just getting in trouble, whatever it may be. Along with my family as well, it’s been some things going on. Me being able to set an example for the kids, to show them they can do this as well,” said Arop.

After everything he’s gone through, Arop plans to keep playing the game he loves.

“Being able to contribute and I love competing and I love the Aztecs,” said Arop.