Bryce Aiken Holds The Point Guard Reins at Harvard

Photo courtesy of Harvard Athletics.

By David Cordova

Throughout the years, diminutive point guards have been king in the Garden State, which is the nickname for New Jersey. They may be small in stature, but they know how to control the game and they also know how to make their presence felt on the court.

One name that you can think of at that position is none other than Bryce Aiken. The 6-foot sophomore at Harvard is a player that controls the Crimson as if he is directing a ship and is also a player that can weave through defenders and score.

When asked what motivates him to be successful in this game? “My family,” says Aiken, “They put the ball in my hands when I was three years old, and I just wanted to make them proud of me, you know. They have invested so much time, so much years into this and I just want to make it to the top and make them proud.”

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Aiken slicing through the lane against Kentucky. (Photo courtesy of Harvard Athletics)

On being from Jersey and the basketball culture there: “Nothing like it. We have the best guards in the country, we produce so much talent out there, and there’s one thing, Jersey pride, it’s nothing like anything out there in the country.”

Aiken started out high school at Pope John XXIII in Sparta, New Jersey, where he averaged 16.3 points and 7.1 assists as a freshman. From there, he would move on to the Patrick School in Hillside, New Jersey, formerly known as St. Patrick’s High School, as a sophomore.

In three years with the Celtics, he led them to a 64-18 record and helped them win the Union County title multiple times during his tenure there. As a senior, he averaged 10.8 points per game.

When asked about his time as a Celtic, Aiken replied, “Patrick School, that was life-changing to be honest. Obviously, going from an environment like Pope John to the Patrick School, where it’s basketball everyday, that’s a priority. And you learn so much, you grow as a person, not only as a player, but as an individual. You grow into a young man. I had countless people in my corner, coming from that school. Chris Chavannes definitely helped me, developed my game. I developed relationships with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kyrie Irving and countless others. It’s a brotherhood and just staying connected to that program and always giving back and just having the next man up and seeing the next kid be successful, it’s great.”

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Aiken during his time at the Patrick School. (Photo courtesy of 4.0 Sports)

When he wasn’t playing in school, Aiken played on the AAU circuit with the Pro Scholars Athletics Cardinals, commonly known as PSA for short. PSA is a program from the Bronx, NY, that has been a force on the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League circuit for the past few years.

His memories with the Cardinals are fond. “That’s family and it always will be,” says Aiken, “Just having Munch in my corner, no matter what it is. Like I said, similar to the Patrick School, just giving back and seeing the next kids and the youth develop, just grow into its own, it’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

As a high schooler, he was a Top-100 prospect in the Class of 2016, and was recruited by many high-major programs such as Miami, Seton Hall, Illinois, Creighton, Auburn, Rutgers and South Florida. But in October 2015, he decided to something different from what others would have done and committed to Harvard University.

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Aiken looks to go to the hole. (Photo courtesy of The Harvard Crimson)

Why did he commit to the prestigious Ivy League institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts when he had numerous offers from big-time schools, one may ask? “Harvard got the whole package, man.” says Aiken, “It’s nothing like academics, it’s not just academics, it’s also the networking that you connect yourself to. It’s so much bigger than basketball. For me, to have the people in my corner to help me see that before making my decision, it’s all blessings, and I can’t thank them enough.”

With the Crimson, he also has a chance to play for the great Tommy Amaker, who has coached at schools such as Seton Hall and Michigan and as an assistant at Duke for nine years. Coach Amaker has been at the helm at Harvard for the last ten years and has led the Crimson to four NCAA Tournament appearances from 2012 to 2015 and has reached over 200 wins in his time there.

“Oh my God, he motivates me every day to be the best person I can be,” says Aiken of Amaker, “When things are going well or when times are tough, you just gotta stay positive. Stay positive and keep pushing. Cause you know, there’s light on the other side, but you just have to get through the bad times. He believed in me more than any coach and that was the main reason why I decided to come to this school, because I mean, it’s one thing to hear coach say that they’ll put the ball in your hands, but it’s another to see another coach put his ultimate trust into you and I can’t thank him enough.”

Also, there is always great competition in the Ivy League with teams such as Princeton, Columbia, Penn, Dartmouth, Yale, Cornell and Brown providing good action. And since there’s only one team that can make the NCAA Tournament from the Ivy League conference, it provides great incentive for all eight teams to be the last team standing come March.

“It’s a little bit different, with the back-to-backs on Friday and Saturday, but I like the fact that they respect our talents,” says Aiken on playing in the Ivy League, “Coming to Harvard as an academic institution, just giving us that time during the week to prepare for the weekend games, it’s challenging, it’s under-the-radar and most people take Ivy League teams for granted, but each and every year, we’re getting more talent that comes through our league and it’ll take some time, but once it gets there, I think the Ivy League will get recognized.”

As a freshman last season, Aiken averaged 14.5 points and 2.8 assists per game for the Crimson, as they went 18-10 and lost in the semifinals of the inaugural Ivy League tournament to Yale.

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Aiken exerts his court vision. (Photo courtesy of The Harvard Crimson)

This season, he’s off to a great start, averaging 17.6 points and 3.3 assists per game. However, the Crimson have had a very rough schedule, playing in-state rival UMass, St. Joseph’s and nationally-ranked programs such as Saint Mary’s and Kentucky, both of whom they have lost close games to. As of now, Harvard’s record is 4-6.

“It’s been tough,” says Aiken on the present season, “We’re 4-6, it hasn’t been the start that we wanted, but we have an entire season to go and we’re not going to stop working, we’re going to keep pushing, keep striving for greatness and keep getting better each and every day. It’s time for us to control our destiny and there’s no more letting people push us into a corner. Like Coach says, you have to draw the line and just keep getting better from her on out.”

In their previous game on the road against Fordham in the Bronx on December 6th, the Crimson struggled in the beginning of the game, but Aiken helped them make a come back and win, 47-45. In that game, he added 15 points on 5-for-11 shooting with three assists.

With conference play beginning on January 6th, the Crimson have a good chance to be a dangerous team in the Ivy League with their sophomore floor general holding down the fort and controlling the movements on the hardwood.

When asked what his future holds for him, he said, “Man, I couldn’t tell you. That’s a story to be written.”

 

Highlights of Bryce Aiken:

Courtesy of The Basketball Diary.

Courtesy of The Basketball Diary.

Courtesy of Courtside Films.

Courtesy of 8Eye Media.

Courtesy of Harvard Athletics.

Courtesy of Buzzer Beater Basketball.

Courtesy of Buzzer Beater Basketball.

Courtesy of Harvard Athletics.

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