Editor: Saturday morning, April 1, 7:30 Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary in San Diego’s Little Italy. The pastor mentions that the Aztecs’ #33 has been seen here at Eucharistic Adoration and was buying rosaries at the gift shop to hand out. (The Aztecs just made it to NCAA national championship yesterday.) #33 is Aguek Arop, whose faith was written about in the San Diego State newspaper:

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….

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 (see Arop in lead website photo), 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….”

Full story at the Daily Aztec.