Alum Ryuji Aoki Shooting His Way to Global Hoops Success

Friday, January 13, 2023
Ryuji Aoki Shooting in a Basketball game

Biomedical engineering alumnus Ryuji Aoki is contributing to the Japanese professional basketball league’s Kyoto Hannaryz team after setting minor-league records by scoring 46 points and making 12 3-point field goals in a game.

Former standout Fightin’ Engineer student-athlete Ryuji Aoki is establishing a love for his Japanese heritage while using his biomechanics knowledge to find success as a record-setting international professional basketball player.

How about that for a three-point play? 

Aoki, a 2020 biomedical engineering alumnus, is in his second season playing in Japan’s top professional league division, this winter contributing to the Kyoto Hannaryz team after being with the Osaka Evessa last year. This has come after his playing skills were showcased for two seasons in second- and third-division teams. 

While playing for the minor league-level Iwate BigBulls team, Aoki set two league records by scoring 46 points and making 12 three-point field goals in a game. He scored 36 points in 17 minutes of the second half. His statistics for the game: 12-of-16 in 3-point field goals, 4-for-4 regular field goal shots, and 6-for-6 free throws. 

“There are very few players that move up to the top (Japanese) league from second- or third-division teams, so I’m proud of what I have accomplished to get to where I am. However, I’m nowhere near satisfied,” Aoki said. “I want to be one of the best shooters in the league and have one of the highest 3-point shooting percentages in the league, while shooting at a high volume … I must prove myself in the top league. I’m very motivated to do bigger things as a team and as an individual.” 

At Rose-Hulman, Aoki set career school records for free throw accuracy (93.2%) while ranking sixth in school history in 3-point field goal accuracy (40.3%) and 17th for 3-point field goals (95). He was a major contributor when the 2017-18 Fightin’ Engineers were Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) regular season co-champions.

Most importantly, Aoki was a third-team Google Cloud Academic All-American after achieving a 3.91 grade-point average. International recognition from this award caught the attention of a head coach with a second-division Japanese professional team. American collegiate players with Japanese heritage are highly coveted to help fill rosters in a sport that’s growing in popularity within the East Asian country. There are several former U.S. professional players and top collegiate players on team rosters throughout the league.

Aoki was born in Japan but moved to America in the second grade, residing in a Chicago suburban neighborhood that happened to have a basketball hoop in the driveway. The sport was a way for him to make new friends and improve his English language skills. He spent significant time honing his basketball shooting skills and helped Stevenson High School capture an Illinois state division title in 2015.

“I’ve always wanted to live in my home country at some point and it aligned perfectly with the opportunity to play professionally in Japan,” he said. “I wanted to play now because I love to play the game and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Nothing gives me more joy and fulfillment than the game of basketball.”

His biomedical engineering skills, especially knowledge of biomechanics, have been helpful in training to prepare for the physical rigors of being a professional athlete. “I have a deeper understanding of my body and understand why I feel fatigue in certain areas of my body, and how I can address it with proper recovery, stretching, and strengthening work,” remarked Aoki.

Finally, he stated, “It’s crazy to think that only three-and-a-half years ago I was playing in the HCAC for Rose-Hulman alongside my teammates and studying late night in the library. I’m thankful for the people who gave me the opportunity to continue my basketball career in college. I’m also thankful for everyone who helped me grow as a person at Rose, from the professors to the counselors and academic advisors, and to my friends and teammates that shared the good and bad times on campus – the bad times being the long hours doing homework and studying; the good times being all the other times.”