College basketball has been on an eight-month hiatus since COVID-19 initially hit the U.S. in late February. The anticipation for the upcoming season is as strong as ever among programs and fans alike, but the 2020-21 season means so much more for Seton Hall’s graduate transfer Bryce Aiken.
After three years at Harvard culminated in an Ivy League Rookie of the Year honor and two first-team All-Ivy appearances, Aiken’s senior year was derailed by injuries. It was a heartbreaking way for any player to seemingly go out, but the opportunity to have one more year in his home state of New Jersey at a program he holds dear to his heart was an opportunity Aiken could not pass up.
“Coming here, coming home and playing for Coach Willard was top of the list,” Aiken said. “It’s an incredible opportunity. Not everybody has the opportunity to represent an institution of their home ground.”
After his senior year at the Patrick School, Harvard and Seton Hall were among a handful of schools chasing after the then-No. 19 point guard coming out of high school. Former Seton Hall center Angel Delgado and current assistant coach Grant Billmeier both attended the Patrick School in their youth, but it was Harvard that ultimately won the race for Aiken’s services.
The second time around, however, the Pirates were the clear frontrunners for Aiken over Michigan, Maryland and Iowa State. Now back home, Aiken’s just a few weeks and six miles away from making his long-awaited debut at Seton Hall.
Even in the face of the pandemic, Aiken had an extended period to gel with his new teammates off the court as he awaits his return to full-contact training. Head Coach Kevin Willard noted that he has been pleased by the maturity Aiken has shown in becoming accustomed to the team’s dynamics and adding to the intangible parts of a team where he can.
“I think he understands that we have guys like Sandro and Myles Cale who have been in this program for three years, and I think he was very good about being one of the leaders,” Willard said. “He’s finding out about personalities and finding out about players in the group.”
Willard and the Seton Hall staff have had a long-lasting relationship with Aiken, dating back to his first year in high school. Having had the opportunities to watch him play in high school and at Harvard over the last four years, Willard knew immediately that the new point guard would bring a naturally gifted basketball mind as well as the work ethic he demands from all his players.
Despite not having Aiken available for full-contact practices yet, Willard said he has enjoyed seeing and engaging with the way the grad-transfer thinks about running the Pirates’ offense.
Somewhat unfortunately, Aiken arrived in South Orange a year after Myles Powell topped his legacy at Seton Hall with a Big East regular season title and the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year award. After the announcement of Aiken’s transfer to Seton Hall, the comparisons between both players and speculation over whether Aiken could fill the gap Powell left began.
“I just want to win,” Aiken said. “I’m not here to fill anybody’s shoes. Myles had a great career and hats off to him, but I’m just here to win.”
Aiken emphasized the importance of the team coming together and performing as a collective to push them to similar heights from last season.
Fans will be counting down the days until the start of the new season and watching their screens anxiously when it does to see if those heights can be reached again.
For Aiken, though, this season is a homecoming and proper send off to the college basketball career of one of New Jersey’s finest point guards.
“Being from New Jersey, prior to even going to Harvard, I always envisioned playing for Seton Hall,” Aiken said. “It’s always been an interest of mine and having the opportunity to do so is incredible.”
Justin Sousa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.