Updated: Apr 11, 2020
Coming out of the Patrick School, Bryce Aiken was a four-star point guard coveted by high-major programs around the country. Aiken, however, was also a National Honors Society student. The New Jersey native was pursued heavily by Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker, who had quickly turned the Crimson into a perennial winner. Coach Amaker made the recruiting pitch that the Crimson provided a platform for him to perform on the court, while exploring a world beyond the basketball court. A hyper-competitive kid by nature, Aiken was also tantalized by the opportunity to play in the Big East or ACC against some of the best college basketball players in the country. Ultimately, the opportunity to grow at a world-class institution like Harvard proved too much to turn down. Aiken, who competed against the best on the Nike EYBL circuit with the PSA Cardinals, opted for Harvard over finalists Seton Hall and Miami. After earning first-team All-Ivy distinction twice in three years, including averaging 22.2 points a game as a junior, Aiken suffered an untimely foot injury earlier this season, which limited him to seven games. While his roommate, Seth Towns, the 2018 Ivy Player of the Year, decided fairly early to become a grad transfer, Bryce, a sharpshooter who knocked down nearly 40% of his three-point shots as a junior, was determined to prepare for the 2020 NBA Draft in June. It wasn’t until late February that Aiken took the grad transfer route as a legitimate possibility. After making it publicly known that he would be pursuing this path, the Aikens were inundated with calls and texts from coaches around the country. With the COVID-19 pandemic’s growth coinciding with his recruitment, it limited his ability to travel and explore campuses, as he had done during the recruiting process out of HS. He finalized a list of four options that he felt would both best showcase his abilities for NBA scouts and give him an opportunity to win on a grand scale in this one-year window: Maryland, Michigan, Iowa State, and Seton Hall. For his final year of college basketball, the product of Randolph, New Jersey is coming home to Seton Hall University to play for the Pirates in front of his loved ones. Pro Insight spoke to Aiken about what went through this process, his growth and aspirations, as well as preparation for the upcoming Big East season and the 2021 NBA Draft. Pro Insight: When you began the grad transfer route, what was your thought process?
Bryce Aiken: Initially, I planned on pursuing professional basketball after graduation. Unfortunately, this decision came with some complications; I had to decide whether or not I wanted to compete on the professional track with several other talented guys when I’m not one hundred percent. It became a question of: would I try to struggle and make my way, or go the grad transfer route? At the end of the day, I felt it would be best for me to pursue a grad transfer. This track will allow me to showcase my abilities on a national stage while taking the time this off season to prepare my body.
PI: When did you know that you would go with the fifth-year option?
BA: To be transparent, it took me some time…up until about a month left in the season. I continually disputed the idea internally because of my drive to play at the next level. It was like late February to early March when I started discussions with my family and friends.
PI: How did this process differ from the recruiting process, when you were coming out of the Patrick School?
BA: I’ve grown immensely since high school, I’m much more mature than I was. In that, I’ve become more knowledgeable about the game of basketball. This time around, I had a pre-existing relationship with some of the schools that recruited me. The familiarity with these
programs gave me the comfort and trust level I needed. I had approached the process with firm intentions and a clear goal in mind. It helped streamline the process and allowed us to have direct conversations with each coaching staff.
PI: What school did you select? What helped differentiate them from the others?
BA: Going into the 20-21 basketball season, I have made the decision to play basketball for the Seton Hall Pirates. For me, the determining factor in choosing Seton Hall is the relationship that I have with Coach Willard. His belief in my ability was paramount.
PI: You had a prior relationship with them going into this process. Did that help you to reconnect much more easily than with some of the others?
BA: Sincerely. Given the current state of the global COVID-19 pandemic, it made the recruiting process a little complicated. Because we are practicing social distancing – not just myself but other recruits as well – I was unable to visit schools which definitely impacted my decision. I have a higher level of understanding of what Seton Hall has to offer which provided a level of familiarity I could rely on.
PI: What did coach Willard say your role or, perhaps, his expectations are for you for next season?
BA: Well, first and foremost, I am so thrilled to be able to represent my home state. To be able to step out onto the Prudential Center floor and have my family and friends be able to surround me each and every night will be a dream come true. Additionally, Seton Hall has a tremendous fan base and their support will be incredible. It’s always held a special place in my heart. To be able to have this opportunity is something that I will not take for granted. Next season, we will have a ton of games that are challenging, game in and game out. That’s an exciting prospect to a competitive person like myself. I want to be able to uphold high
standards that have been created by those before me and win a Big East regular season title. Those are the expectations. I can’t wait to play in March Madness.
PI: Did you get feedback from Myles Powell or some of the other guys on the team, in terms of their feedback or experiences with the program?
BA: Myles and I have a long-standing relationship. We go way back into the AAU days. We talk on a regular basis, but I asked him about his experiences at Seton Hall and what I needed to know about the situation. I definitely had to get his thoughts and we even joked about the passing of the torch. (Laughs) We spoke about keeping the track record of people who came before him and guys like Angel Delgado and Isaiah Whitehead. We want to keep that path to success that Seton Hall has been able to achieve.
PI: How have you grown as a player and as a person over the past few years at Harvard?
BA: Harvard is definitely an exceptional school and transformational experience. It’s a place that opens your eyes to the world beyond basketball. Which was certainly part of the reason why I ended up attending Harvard and playing for Coach Amaker. All aspects of the institution: academics, basketball, and the students I interacted with complemented a great four years. I think it helped me recognize not only my talent, but my role and responsibility as a college basketball player. It’s a platform to show that student-athletes are able to compete at the highest level, while also attending an elite academic institution and exploring other interests beyond the game.
PI: What advice did Coach Amaker give you about this process and what to look for? Or did he stay out of it entirely?
BA: He was not too deeply involved, but he just encouraged me to follow my heart and to find a situation where I would be confident and successful.
PI: From an NBA standpoint, what do you hope to show scouts over the next year on a platform like Seton Hall in the New York media market?
BA: It’s certainly a large market but I think I’m accustomed to it. More active crowds and heavy media coverage comes with the game. I feel good about being able to handle it. I’m looking forward to showcasing my abilities on a national stage. Playing in the Big East against highly respected guys will give me an opportunity to show scouts on a regular basis what I am capable of. Illustrating clearly to NBA scouts a clearer picture that I can play at that level. I want to be able to show the NBA people that I can not only run the point guard position, but that I can lead and be more than just a scorer. I can impact the game in various ways.
PI: In order to prepare for next year’s draft, what areas of your game will you be most focused on improving?
BA: First objective is to get healthy. Other than my freshman year, I've had some injuries. I want to show that I can play an entire season. It's very important for NBA scouts and personnel to see. Secondly, as a point guard, it's important that I continue to show that I can lead a team. Transferring to the Big East with a new team, I have to be that leader as every point guard should be. Lastly, I want to show that I am a complete player. I have to be able both to lead the team and produce at a high rate against high-level competition. It’s a challenge, but one that I embrace.
PI: You have a long-standing relationship with Kyrie Irving. What advice has he given you, both about this process, as well as getting yourself as ready as possible for the NBA?
BA: That’s a loaded question. (Laughs) He told me to always follow my heart. You know, the biggest gamble as a basketball player is choosing a situation where you can be successful…as long as your heart’s there, the rest will take care of itself to play at a high level. Additionally, he often reminds me to be myself. You know, you put the countless hours
into every game and practice and try to perfect the craft and chase the dream. So, just be true to yourself and continue to play the game.
PI: For fans that have never seen you play, can you describe your game? What do you hope to bring?
BA: I play a different brand of basketball. I would say I play an exciting style: I get up and down offensively and I like to score at a high level. I’m someone who’s extremely passionate about the game; I consider myself the ultimate competitor. And you can expect to see me do everything in my power to continue on like this.
PI: You battled some injuries at Harvard. Do you consider yourself a resilient player?
BA: I definitely think so. Anyone who’s been in my shoes and experienced an injury before understands what it takes to first rehabilitate that injury and then get back to a high level. I had to persevere time and time again through injury and keep going. Those experiences have shown me how much I love the game and how much I am willing to give to it.
PI: What has been your motivation through the years? What has been your driving factor on and off the court?
BA: My driving factor? It would be making my family proud. As I have gone down this path, I have been a first-hand witness to the investment that my family has poured into my career. I just want to pay it forward and make them proud. Obviously, as any young athlete feels, they want to make their family proud by going pro. That’s the ultimate goal.
PI: Last August, you went to CP3 Camp and played against many of the best point guards in the country. What did you learn about yourself going through that process and competing against them?
BA: I definitely learned that I belonged. I’ve always had a belief in my ability and playing at a high level against NBA prospects from across the country reassured this notion for me.
PI: I was going to ask about the coronavirus. What are you trying to work on in terms of preparation for next year? Are you able to work on anything? Conditioning or ball-handling or stuff like that?
BA: First off, my thoughts are out to those who have been affected by coronavirus. In addition, shout out to healthcare personnel who are on the front lines, I applaud your work. My mom is a nurse, so this strikes home for me. But yeah, I’ve been doing what I can to keep my body right.
PI: Who have been some point guards over the years that you’ve tried to model your game after?
BA: Clearly, I watch Kyrie and his exciting moves. Offensively, I love to take things from his game. In addition, I respect Steph Curry’s game with his long-range shooting and Damian Lillard and his toughness.
PI: And you share some of his work ethic as well. What was your parents’ reaction when you told them your decision? What was your mother’s reaction when you told her you were going to Seton Hall?
BA: Oh man, I’m sure any parent who hears that their kid wants to stay home and play on a stage where they can be at every single home game would be happy. It’s an opportunity that nobody should take for granted. That’s a factor that weighed heavily in my decision, to be able to play in front of them and have them there when times are good and times are bad. A support system is truly important and they’ve clearly been invested in this decision themselves. They love it, man.
PI: Did you ever talk to Seth Towns about his process and compare what he was looking for and what you were looking for? You had different paths, but did you talk to him about this at all?
BA: We both have a vested interest in each other’s’ careers and just try to help each other make the best decision for ourselves. He made the decision to explore it way earlier than I did. He encouraged me to explore it myself. I was definitely hesitant at first, but when it’s all said and done, I think the most important thing is to be in a situation where we could show our abilities on a national stage and to be home. Being home certainly impacted our decisions.
PI: What do you think the biggest change will be going from the Ivies to the Big East?
BA: I would say the speed of the game and the schedule.
PI: What about strength? Is that a factor with some players?
BA: Yeah, you definitely need that playing in the high majors. That’s different at this level as well.
PI: Which teammates do you know at Seton Hall?
BA: I’ve spoken to Sandro a couple of times and he made me feel confident in choosing the program. I’m excited to have a chance to play with him, along with Myles Cale and Jared Rhoden and all of those guys. I’m looking forward to competing with guys who want to win like I do.
PI: How are you hoping to differentiate yourself among the point guards in terms of the NBA?
BA: I think the way any point guard differentiates themselves is to win. If you win more than anyone else, it puts you at the top. If you’re able to win at Seton Hall, you’ll be atop of the Big East and then nationally it’ll separate you.
PI: Was this a stressful process or a relief to make the decision?
BA: I think it was a pretty unique process. Towards the end as I released the final list, it was a little stressful because everyone was trying to give their final pitch. But after my experience at Harvard, I now know what it means to be a student-athlete and a part of a program. So, I think that was a pretty unique part of the process and different from the experience that I had in high school.
PI: And now maybe share one last message to the fan base about what you’ll be bringing them next year.
BA: I’m just excited to be joining Seton Hall and Pirate Nation and I’m able to get after that and I’m very glad to be coming home to Seton Hall University!