November 6, 2019

Princeton Men’s Hoops Opening 2019-20 Campaign, Aiming to Emulate Aririguzoh’s Humility, Work Ethic

RICH AND SUCCESSFUL: Princeton University men’s basketball player Richmond Aririguzoh, right, fields a question at the program’s annual media day last week as teammate Jaelin Llewellyn and head coach Mitch Henderson look on. The Tigers, who went 16-12 last year on the way to the Ivy League postseason tournament with Aririguzoh emerging as a star, are tipping off the 2019-20 season this week with games at Duquesne on November 5 and against the University of San Francisco at the Chase Center in San Francisco on November 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

While practice for the Princeton University men’s basketball team typically starts at 4:45 in the afternoon, Richmond Aririguzoh has stuck to a different schedule over the last four years.

“Starting in Richmond’s freshman year, he didn’t want anybody to notice him and he would go into the side court basket and that is where he would get his work done,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, speaking at the program’s annual media day last week.

“If you show up at 4:15, you could set your watch to precision like work being done on that exact same basket. That story just says that there is a humbleness to Richmond. It is don’t worry about me, I will be in the side court working. It would be easy for him to walk around campus and pat himself on the back and ask others to do the same but that is just not his personality. I ask us to make us him; we will all be better for it.”

In going 16-12 last winter, Aririguzoh’s stunning improvement in his junior campaign was a main highlight as he averaged 12.1 points and 6.4 rebounds, shooting .693 from the floor and .758 from the line in earning second-team All-Ivy League honors. As a sophomore, he had averaged 2.7 points and 1.7 rebounds a game in a reserve role.

Aririguzoh’s emergence as a star helped Princeton make the Ivy postseason tournament where it battled valiantly in the semis  before falling 83-77 to eventual champion Yale.

Henderson, for his part, saw seeds for future success in the loss to Yale. 

“I don’t like to talk too much about last season but if I could ever say a loss informs me more going into the offseason, that was the one,” said Henderson, whose team is tipping off the 2019-20 season this week with games at Duquesne on November 5 and against the University of San Francisco at the newly-opened Chase Center in San Francisco on November 9.

“That gave us focus and foundation. As unhappy as we could be coming back on that bus, we were pleased.”

Reflecting on the preseason, Henderson is pleased to see his squad adopting Aririguzoh’s mindset.

“There is a spirit of humbleness with the team; I think we embody Richmond’s spirit generally and that is a really good thing,” said Henderson.

“He smiles when you give him a compliment, he can take a joke and he is arguably the hardest worker we have had around for a really long time and we have had a lot of hard workers. I don’t think anyone would disagree that he is one of the most improved players in college basketball history.”

The 6’9, 230-pound Aririguzoh, a resident of Ewing who starred for Trenton Catholic Academy in his high school days, is determined to build on the progress he made last winter.

“The two biggest things I wanted to work on was to come back in better shape and and to help my teammates offensively with more than just scoring,” said Aririguzoh.

“It is engaging with double teams, passing the ball, being more of a facilitator when I have to be but also staying aggressive when I need to be aggressive.”

Henderson is looking for more aggressive play from sophomore point guard Jaelin Llewellyn, who averaged 10.1 points and 3.0 rebounds last winter with a team-high 55 assists  in 21 games, missing seven contests due to illness and injury

“I have really been impressed with his leadership; last year when we played Dartmouth here at home, he took over the game verbally towards the end,” said Henderson.

“We are going to rely heavily on Jaelin at both ends of the floor to put other people in positions of success, not only defensively but offensively. He is a high level player and a high level person. The ball is his. There is great responsibility in that and also good freedom in that.”

Llewellyn, for his part, is ready to assume that responsibility. “I would just say decision-making and getting stronger as well, being more aggressive and just playing my game,” said Llewellyn.

“Normally I have been a leader by example but I have to be vocal to be a good leader. I have been focusing on asserting myself more within the team.”

Princeton is looking for such veterans as junior Ryan Schwieger (7.5 points, 2.5 rebounds in 2018-19), junior Jerome Desrosiers (5.0 points, 5.3 rebounds), sophomore Max Johns (2.4 points, 1.0 rebounds), sophomore Ethan Wright (3.5 points, 2.9 rebounds), and sophomore Drew Friberg (2.0 points, 0.5 rebounds) to assert themselves more this winter.

“Everybody is like an old man, which is good,” said Henderson. “We missed Ryan at the end of last season; he came down with a concussion right at the end. He is way more vocal and taking a larger role on both ends of the floor. Jerome put in a lot of work on the weight room over the summer. Max has a walk softly, carry a big stick philosophy. He is the guts of the team. He doesn’t say a whole lot but he is tough. Ethan and Drew are better.”

A battle-tested pair of seniors, Jose Morales (4.5 points, 1.5 rebounds) and Will Gladson (3.3 points, 1.9 rebounds) figure to add toughness and leadership.

“Jose and Will are the two fellow seniors with Richmond; we have seen both of them play significant minutes,” said Henderson. “There is a vocalness to the team and it is focused on winning which I love.”

In Henderson’s view, the squad’s freshman class of Ryan Langborg, Konrad Kiszka, Tosan Evbuomwan, Jacob O’Connell, and Keeshawn Kellman could end up making a significant contribution.

“It is a great group, they are learning so much on a day-to-day basis,” said Henderson.

“They are all highly recruited, we are thrilled with the group. I think it could be one of the best recruiting classes we have ever had. Right now it is a good sign that they are struggling, not in all ways but to learn how they are going to help make us win. They are taking their cues from the leadership of the team. It is about how do we get better here, that is what we do. They are nodding their heads and putting their heads down.”

With a November slate of games that includes Lafayette, Indiana, Arizona State and Bucknell, the Tigers will have to fight hard to keep their heads above water in the early going.

“It is a tough schedule, a really, really hard November; we are doing that for a specific reason,” said Henderson.

“I have always felt like I want to recruit nationally, I want to play a nationally recognized schedule. I want to compete and I want these guys to compete. My aim every year is prepare these guys to beat the best teams on our schedule and win the league. I think you do that by challenging yourself in the non- conference schedule.”

For Llewellyn, dealing with those challenging foes should help steel the Tigers.

“I see playing a schedule like that as an opportunity to show the work we have been putting in and to show that we can compete with the best in the country,” said Llewellyn. “It is just playing hard against those type of teams.”

Aririguzoh, for his part, is ready to show what he can do for his legion of local fans.

“It is really exciting, I am blessed to be in the position I am in with people from home that can look up at me and see what I have been able to do with this team and what this team has been able to do for me,” asserted Aririguzoh.

“I thank coach Henderson so much for this opportunity. I think it is go time for the guys at home, they know it is time to play.