Last season, Alfred Aroga of the National University Bulldogs took the league by storm with his sheer physical dominance and uncanny athletic ability. Unlike the prototypical big man, Aroga moves like a wing, thrives in pick-and-roll situations, and is strong enough to fortify a team’s interior defense.
The Cameroonian student-athlete averaged 10.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks on 50.4% shooting last season. He upped the ante during the UAAP Playoffs in averaging a double-double with 13.3 markers and 12 rebounds enroute to the championship and the Finals MVP honor.
With a championship already under his belt, many expected Aroga to assert himself further since the Bulldogs saw multiple players depart from the team with the likes of Troy Rosario and Glenn Khobuntin climbing up the pro ranks.
“It’s not easy. We have a team different from last year,” Aroga remarked. “I really should find a way [to make myself effective].”
This was a sentiment shared by his mentor and head coach Eric Altamirano. “He is finding his identity with the team. Right now, he is lost that’s why we need to help him out. He just has to keep his focus right now, his strengths,” Altamirano shared. “He is really a defensive player. So now he is placed in a situation where he needs to assert himself more on offense.”
However, Aroga’s game-changing presence is yet to surface as the Bulldogs dropped their first two games of the season against the De La Salle University Green Archers and the University of the East Red Warriors. In two games played, Aroga averaged 8.5 points on 50 percent shooting, 13 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 5 turnovers per game.
“I’ve been food poisoned last Tuesday and Wednesday so I’m not a hundred percent but that isn’t an excuse,” Aroga said when asked about his team’s 0-2 start. “My team really needs me. Every time we lose games like this, everybody is not alright.”
Moreover, Aroga stressed that he is mentally distracted with the pressure of being one of the leaders of the team. When he thinks too much, his game is also affected. “I really feel that way because I have a lot in my head. I cannot help to think on how I can help the team,” he added.
During one stretch in their game against the UE Red Warriors, UE’s versatile big RR De Leon taunted the big man to shoot a jump shot. The result was a forced shot that ended up being an airball. A few plays after, he was forced to an offensive foul and a travelling violation as Alfred ended the game with eight turnovers. “I’m trying to do so much to help the team and it is killing me. You can imagine every time when we lose a game, I look at them and I feel bad. I feel like I’m betraying my family. It is really painful and hard to grasp.”
A 0-2 start can be alarming for any UAAP team, but for Aroga, he further noted that it is not the time to press the panic button yet as they have lots of time to regroup and put up a winning streak of their own.
“I’m not panicking but [an] 0-2 [start] is not a joke. I’m not panicking at all, I’m just really concerned. I’m not thinking about panicking,” he remarked.
Coach Altamirano gave one advice to Aroga after the game, “he just has to relax and play his game. Hopefully, he is able to get his game back.”
Now, Aroga and the Bulldogs look to regroup as they are set a familiar foe in Kiefer Ravena and the Ateneo Blue Eagles this coming Wednesday, 4:00 pm, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“My own enemy in the UAAP is me. I’m fighting against myself. I don’t think about Ateneo or any other team.”
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