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Paul Atkinson and AJ Brodeur lead the Ivy League’s big man revolution

Princeton coach Mitch Henderson calls it “a throwback to a whole different generation.”

Yale v Howard Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Ivy League is where Bill Bradley once patrolled the paint for Princeton, and now a new generation of big men is taking the league by storm. The top four candidates for Ivy League Player of the Year according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings are forwards and they will play a huge role in deciding the winner of the league.

“It’s incredible. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “We’re a throwback to a whole different generation.”

The leader of the revolution is Yale’s Paul Atkinson. The 6’10 junior is a match-up nightmare in the paint. He is second in Ivy League play in scoring at 19.8 points per game and is tied for first in rebounding at 9.0 per game. Atkinson is an old-fashioned big man. He’s attempted just one three-pointer in Ivy play, but is still shooting 66 percent in the paint. And while Atkinson contributes defensively around the rim, he’s also tied for first with 15 steals.

Atkinson had teamed up with one of the other top big men in the league, Jordan Bruner, to form a dynamic frontcourt duo. But after Bruner injured his knee this past weekend, it may be up to Atkinson to carry the Bulldogs moving forward.

Princeton and its center, Richmond Aririguzoh, will play Atkinson and the Bulldogs on Friday night at Jadwin Gymnasium in a match-up of first place teams in the Ivy League.

“It’s great. It’s super fun for me going back-and-forth with all these incredible big men,” Aririguzoh said. “Atkinson just came off [an almost] 30-point game against Harvard. So he’s a monster and we knew that coming in.”

Aririguzoh has already matched up twice in the paint with another one of the Ivy League’s top pivots, Penn’s AJ Brodeur. Brodeur, a senior, is the focal point for a Quakers team that has already defeated Alabama and Providence this season and is right behind the Tigers and Bulldogs in the Ivy League race. One of the most impressive parts of Brodeur’s game is his ability to get all of his teammates involved. Even at 6’8, he’s third in the Ivy League with 4.5 assists per game. He also draws fouls regularly and heads to the line, where he has shot 80 percent in league play.

While Brodeur scored 34 points in two games against the Tigers, he had just two assists in the losses. Henderson said that it is the play of Aririguzoh, one of just two seniors in Princeton’s rotation, that has made Princeton so dangerous during league play.

“He’s the most selfless player I’ve ever had,” Henderson said. “We are him and that’s a good sign.”

Even though Arriguzoh is not quite putting up the scoring numbers of some of the other big men in the league, he has been deadly efficient in the paint. He is also tied for the league lead in rebounding with Atkinson. Aririguzoh has been particularly good at crashing the offensive glass, which leads to put-back dunks and other second-chance opportunities.

As it does with some big men, it took Aririguzoh some time to develop his game at the collegiate level. Aririguzoh’s efficiency and playing time took a huge jump between his sophomore and junior seasons.

“He’s single-mindedly put his mind to making himself a better player,” Henderson said about the transformation.

Aririguzoh credits Henderson for having faith that he could become an important front court piece.

“He thought he saw some potential in me and the coaches worked with me and I decided to put my mind to it to become more effective and put some pressure on defenses,” Princeton’s center said.

And now, Aririguzoh is battling all of the talented big men in the Ivy League, including Atkinson, Brodeur, Harvard’s Chris Lewis, and Dartmouth’s Chris Knight. Lewis is tied for the league lead in blocked shots at 2.3 per game, while Knight is averaging 11.5 ppg and 5.2 rpg as the primary focus of the Big Green’s offense.

“Everybody has got a kid of that caliber,” Columbia coach Jim Engles said. “Everybody’s offense is a little bit different.”

Henderson agrees.

“Every single team,” he said. “Brodeur, Lewis, Atkinson, Richmond. It’s unbelievable. Back-to-the-basket scoring. It’s just an unusual time.”