After Developing Into Star for PU Men’s Hoops, Aririguzoh Starting Pro Career in Danish League
MAKING HIS MARK: Richmond Aririguzoh, right, battles in the paint against a Columbia defender last March during his senior season for the Princeton University men’s basketball team. Two-time All-Ivy League center Aririguzoh recently started his pro hoops career, playing for Horsens IC in Denmark’s top league. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
Richmond Aririguzoh was happy to give up working as a COVID-19 contact tracer to begin his professional basketball career in Denmark.
“You have people that don’t want to talk,” said Aririguzoh, a former men’s hoops standout for Princeton University who graduated in June.
“They don’t want to let people know that they’re positive, they want to keep doing what they’re doing and go to work. A lot of it was getting to me. I have a lot of respect for people doing contact tracing. I’m glad I did it that long, but I think it was time for me to make my exit.”
Aririguzoh hadn’t played a game since his collegiate career and the Tiger men’s season abruptly ended in mid-March before the start of the Ivy League tournament.
After finishing the brunt of his ecology and evolutionary biology major work, Aririguzoh began taking the steps to further his playing career. He worked out, he hired an agent – the agent of another Princeton graduate Judson Wallace ’05 – and he relied on his new agent to contact prospective teams. After flirting with several opportunities, he settled on Horsens IC in Denmark’s top league.
“I was growing restless,” said Aririguzoh, who averaged 12.0 points and 7.4 rebounds a game in his senior season, helping the Tigers go 14-13 overall and 9-5, earning a spot in the league postseason tourney.
“I wanted to get out there. When it’s your first year, you don’t want to linger too long because you start getting little doubts – am I ever going to get out there? – especially in this COVID year when so many people are still back in the states waiting for stuff. I definitely wanted to get out there.”
Arriving in Copenhagen on November 14, Aririguzoh took a train to the town of Horsens, the eighth largest city in Denmark and a cultural center for the country. Many of Horsens players already had two months of practice with the team and they had a few games in already as well when Aririguzoh joined the team.
“My impression of this team was they’re a bunch of really skilled guys,” said Aririguzoh.
“The other imports – they’re not from Denmark – some of them I’ve seen played in this league or some other higher leagues so there’s some good talent on this team. A lot of my impressions have to do with how the pro game is a little different from the college game, so there’s some adjusting to be done. As far as the entire team, I think I really enjoy the culture – their accountability culture here – and the focus on communication and connecting. I think I’ll really enjoy that.”
Horsens has been league champion six times, but not since 2016. They last won the Danish Men’s Basketball Cup in 2015. Aririguzoh wasted little time getting into the mix. He has been practicing twice per day with Horsens focusing on skill work mostly in the morning sessions and team sessions with more live scrimmaging and work in their second practice each day. Aririguzoh has been adjusting to the changes in his first year overseas.
“It’s a really high skill level,” said Aririguzoh. “I didn’t really have any expectations. I’m pleased with the situation I’m in right now. I think I can learn a lot this year.”
Aririguzoh’s improvements at Princeton have been widely praised. After playing locally at Trenton Catholic Academy, the Ewing resident developed in college into a chiseled 6’9, 230-pound center who closed his career second in Princeton history with a .636 field goal percentage, piling up 755 points and 437 rebounds. He was named First-Team All-Ivy as a senior, his second straight season in which he started every game for the Tigers. He’s hoping to mirror that growth at the professional level.
“There’s that same learning curve here,” said Aririguzoh, who went from averaging 2.7 points a game as a sophomore reserve to scoring 12.1 points a contest in his junior campaign and earning Second-Team All-Ivy honors.
“Here, there’s an emphasis on you need to learn as quickly as possible. In college, you get a little bit of time depending on what’s expected of you as a freshman. If it’s a team that’s senior led, you can take your time, or maybe if it’s younger they need your contribution. Here, it’s more like the latter. You need to learn as soon as possible because you need to contribute now. They pay you to make contributions now. You get less time, but you know everyone is here to help you.”
Aririguzoh will be assuming a similar role for Horsens as he did at Princeton, being expected to bring a physical presence in the paint.
“We have a bunch of scorers at all these positions,” said Aririguzoh.
“For me, the emphasis is to be a fairly dominant force inside defensively and offensively, rebounding, blocking shots and whatever you had at the previous level they expect you to bring with you. My post game is something they look for me to maintain and improve upon, but also becoming more assertive and commandeering of the paint area.”
How Aririguzoh gets his opportunities may look a little different from how he did it at Princeton with Horsens emphasizing a different style of play that reflects the Danish league.
“It’s faster,” said Aririguzoh. “It’s more for the bigs, pick-and-roll oriented, which is something I didn’t get a chance to do a lot at Princeton. The Princeton offense is really unique. That’s the way I was used to playing.”
Adjusting quickly, Aririguzoh is already starting to embrace the changes with Horsens. The team is looking for him to be more explosive and learn to get more comfortable and effective in screen-and-roll sets.
“It requires a different skill set, knowing how to set screens, how to get open from screens, the most effective way to do both of those things,” said Aririguzoh.
“It seems like fairly obvious things but there are some nuances. The best players are able to explore those nuances and that’s what I’m looking to do most effectively. I wouldn’t say I’m quite there. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in pick and roll from the two weeks I’ve been here, but I think I’m still improving and it’s something I can build on.”
In the early going, though, Aririguzoh is falling back on everything that he learned at Princeton that can be applied to his new job. He can remind himself of what it takes to continue to develop as he did for the Tigers.
“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” said Aririguzoh. “You’re going to have to get them out, you’re going to have to make them. Playing through your mistakes is a big one. You’re going to get some early on. It’s something I’ve seen so far. Don’t be afraid to make them. One of the biggest things you can have is unshakeable confidence out here. There’s a lot of new stuff being thrown at you – new country, new teammates, new culture, different language sometimes, but as I told one of my old teammates, Jose Morales, at the end of the day it’s just basketball. Like everybody here, you’re good at basketball. That’s the kind of confidence you need to get through this and make the best of the situation and learn as much as you can.”
In Aririguzoh’s view, his Princeton career prepared him well for the next level. His experiences against Tiger opponents and styles and ability to respond to challenges will come in useful in Denmark.
“Going up against talent, I’m used to that,” said Aririguzoh. “Having to adjust on the fly, I’m used to that. I’ve been on winning teams at Princeton and I’ve been on teams when it didn’t go that well, and when the pressure was on and when you have to just figure it out and turn it around. Like this year, we started 0-5 or something like that and turned it around. I’ve been on all sorts of team. You have to know what it takes. It’s whatever got you here, plus more, that’s really the formula.”
Aririguzoh got off to a good start in his first tests in game action. Despite having minimal practice time compared to some teammates, he was able to score 12 points and pull down six rebounds in Horsens’ 83-63 win over BMS Herley Wolfpack on November 21.
“I wasn’t even sure I was going to play until the day before because there was paperwork involved,” said Aririguzoh.
“I found out the day before I was going to be able to play. That was a good experience to get one under my belt and to see how fast the game is. You can’t really replicate that in practice. The physicality, that’s also something way more of a factor at the pro level than college level. At the college level, the whistle is pretty tight so you can’t do too much with that aspect. Over here, they let you play a little more and it causes a different skill set.”
Just over a week later, the outcome for Horsens wasn’t as favorable, though they were competitive through the first half. Aririguzoh finished with four points, two rebounds and three assists in a 108-89 loss to the league favorite Bakken Bears.
“That was a little bit rougher,” said Aririguzoh. “We were neck and neck until the third quarter. They built a lead and ran away with it. We knew going in when you’re playing the best team, there’s a very small margin for error. We made some mistakes we shouldn’t have and let up in the second half and they took advantage of it. They were basically waiting on every mistake we did. There’s a lot to learn from there.”
How fast Aririguzoh can adjust and learn will dictate much of his first-year success. He is looking forward to growing his game overseas and setting an upward trajectory. “I’m excited to embrace the challenge,” he said.
There is also some adjusting outside of the court. Aririguzoh lives in an apartment with a teammate a very short walk from their facility. He has a bike to get around, and when it warms up and is safer as the pandemic subsides, he expects to explore more.
“I’d rather not be stuck walking around in 0 degrees Celsius weather,” said Aririguzoh.
“I’ve seen a little bit of the town. My most frequent trip is to the grocery story so I know my way there pretty well. Later on, maybe when we get a break, I’ll be more keen on going out and seeing what’s out there.”