BROWN DEER, Wis. — In many ways, Aguek Arop is your typical skinny, friendly, basketball-loving 15-year-old enjoying his summer break.
Well, except for the fact that this springy 6-foot-4 prospect now holds a scholarship offer from Nebraska — just more than a month after finishing his freshman year at Omaha South.
This weekend, his AAU team, Omaha Elite 15U, is in suburban Milwaukee for the NY2LA Summer Jam tourney. After an overtime win against a Wisconsin team on Friday morning, talent-laden Omaha Elite had a sparkling 32-3 record this spring and summer.
“My favorite part of playing basketball is having fun,” Arop said with a smile. “I love playing with these guys.”
It was one week ago when Arop’s AAU coach, Thomas Liechti, received a surprise call from Nebraska coach Tim Miles. The Omaha Elite team was at a Steak ’n Shake restaurant outside St. Louis, where it had just lost the championship game of a tournament.
“Before I got the call, it was very somber,” Liechti said. “There were chins on chests. ... The guys weren’t eating much. But then the call came, and when I told them, they were so excited for Aguek. It was like he won the lottery.”
“I was just in awe,” said Arop, beaming at the memory. “I couldn’t believe it. Everyone was giving me handshakes, and I couldn’t stop smiling.”
Though Arop is a Nebraska fan — and had a great time watching the Huskers beat Ohio State at home last season — he isn’t quite ready to commit. Asked what his dream school is, Arop said quickly, “Duke. Coach K.”
“I would like to keep my options open,” he added, smiling when admitting friends are good-naturedly imploring him to commit to Nebraska. Liechti said Creighton has set up a visit for Arop and a teammate this week. The University of Nebraska at Omaha is calling, too. More will follow.
“The great thing about Coach Miles is he is putting absolutely no pressure on Aguek to commit. None at all,” Liechti said. “He says to enjoy the process. Aguek definitely loves Nebraska, is big on Nebraska. He just wants to see what happens.”
In Friday morning’s game, Arop was impressive but not dominant. He had two baskets and a bushel of rebounds, some of which showcased his startlingly quick leaping ability.
But Arop, who started playing in fourth grade and first dunked the summer after seventh grade, does not force shots. And few plays are run through him, though his midrange jumper is soft and pretty. Much of his offensive production comes via cleaning up on the boards, forcing steals with his quick hands and running the floor.
He’s grounded enough to know he has plenty of work to do before the next level and is far from a finished product. Asked why he thinks Nebraska offered, Arop said without hesitation, “potential.”
“I think I will continue to grow,” he said. “I’m hoping I reach 6-7.”
Right now, he carries about 180 pounds on his lithe 6-4 frame. He said he has a 3.3 grade-point average and size 13 feet, and last year, his wingspan was measured at an unusually long 6-10. To put that in perspective, that’s the same as NBA draftee Glenn Robinson III from Michigan (who’s 6-6 3/4 in shoes, according to NBA.com) and longer than Creighton grad Doug McDermott’s 6-9 1/4. McDermott stands 6-7 3/4 in shoes, according to NBA.com.
Liechti acknowledged the promise of Arop’s frame, but there’s something the coach likes even more.
“He plays so hard every single game,” Liechti said. “He’s such a high-motor player and he has such great character. The number one thing about Aguek as a player is his motor.”
Liechti and Arop praised Omaha South coach Bruce Chubick for the way he’s grooming the player’s skills. Chubick’s son, Bruce Jr., was a 6-7 standout for Nebraska in the 1990s.
“Coach Chubick is always talking to me about rebounding,” Arop said. “He tells me to have the desire to get the ball.”
Said Liechti: “As a player, Aguek does whatever is asked. He has a very, very diverse game. Offensively, he can play positions one through five. Defensively, he can guard any position.”
Omaha Elite sharp-shooting point guard Jay Small, from Hinton, Iowa, confidently drained a 25-foot, game-winning 3-pointer against the Wisconsin team on Friday morning. Afterward, he smiled when asked about his raw, talented teammate with the offer from Nebraska.
“He’s a lot of fun to be around, first of all,” Small said. “As a player, he gets rebounds and gives us a lot of energy. He can jump really well, and being tall always helps. And he’s only going to get taller.”
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