After helping Eastern Washington take Kansas to the wire in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Kim Aiken Jr. and some of his teammates entered the transfer portal this spring determined to take their games to another level.
“We had the exposure a little bit—me, Tanner Groves, Jake Groves—to go on and move further,” Aiken said in an interview with Wildcats Radio 1290.
Arizona was quick to express interest in Aiken. Associate head coach Jack Murphy knew about him when he coached at NAU, one of Eastern Washington’s Big Sky rivals. Murphy then saw Aiken up close last December when the Eagles gave the Wildcats all they could handle in McKale Center.
Aiken, rattling off names like Stanley Johnson and Andre Iguodala, was intrigued by the prospect of suiting up for such a historic program.
“I’m like, Wow, that’s a great opportunity to let my name be known and go out there and play great basketball for a great coach, Sean Miller,” Aiken said.
Aiken, a Redlands, Calif. native, committed to Arizona in late April but reopened his commitment after Miller was fired days later. The Wildcats hired Tommy Lloyd as their new head coach on April 14, but Aiken committed to Washington State on April 21.
“Tommy Lloyd is still a great coach, but in the process of all of that, Coach Lloyd was just coming in, not knowing everything that was going to happen,” Aiken said. “He had guys leaving like James Akinjo, Jemarl Baker, everyone was leaving on him. So he was coming in and thinking, ‘oh my God, how can I get these guys to stay?’ And so he told me pretty much that I should keep my recruiting options open and we’ll see what happens. And I kind of took that and I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll go keep looking elsewhere.’ But when I didn’t hear back, I was kind of nervous. I don’t want to be left out on the opportunity of playing in the Pac-12, and I decided to go to WSU.”
Aiken’s opportunity at Washington State fell through when he was denied admission into a graduate program for political science despite his 3.40 GPA. He was told that he would have to get another bachelor’s degree instead. That didn’t sit well with him. He reopened his recruitment again on July 29.
“The NCAA says student athlete, and if I get my school paid for, I’m not going to settle for another bachelor’s (degree),” Aiken said. “So I decided to enter the portal.”
Sure enough, Arizona came calling again. The Cats needed another big man after Jordan Brown transferred away. Aiken liked the idea of replacing the Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year, so he committed to Arizona again on Aug. 2.
“Yeah, he’s a little bit stockier, but I could definitely bring something I think more than what he could have brought,” Aiken said. “And now I’m a Wildcat.”
The 6-foot-7 forward envisions having a Swiss Army knife role for the Wildcats just like he did for the Eagles. Aiken last season averaged 11.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 43.8 percent from the field, 32 percent from 3 and 81.7 percent from the free throw line.
His best work came on the defensive side of the ball, where he racked up 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game and was named the Big Sky’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Aiken, who has two years of eligibility left, feels prepared for major-conference basketball because Eastern Washington regularly played teams of that caliber. In his three seasons with the Eagles, they faced Syracuse, Oregon, Washington, Stanford, Gonzaga, Arizona and Kansas among others.
Aiken once dropped 26 points and nine rebounds in a road game at Washington.
“The competition level is going to be up, but I think everything is going to translate with the work that I’ve been putting in,” Aiken said. “So defensively-wise, I think I can go out there and guard 1 through 4, maybe even a 5. I’m not even gonna say maybe. I know I can guard a 5, so that’s a plus being versatile on the defensive end. And on the offensive end, it’s the pretty much the same thing because even though I’m not handling the ball as much, I feel like I can do a lot of the cutting, the shooting and getting in the low block.”
Aiken has had 11 20-point games in college, but he isn’t too concerned about putting up big scoring numbers at Arizona. He’s focused on winning and knows Lloyd’s Gonzaga teams were known for sharing the ball.
“I don’t have to be Kyrie Irving on the ball to get noticed,” Aiken said. “There’s a lot of other things that you can do to help your team win games, to help yourself and to get your yourself out there and get your school out there because we’re here to win a national championship, we’re trying to win the Pac-12 conference. So everything we do is going to have a purpose.”
He added: “I know I can play if I just do the work, continue doing the work. If you get that down, you really shouldn’t go into any game like, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy’s a five-star athlete or oh my gosh, he’s 7-1’. If you do what you have to do day in and day out with the confidence, you’re gonna be just fine. And that’s not even with just the work. But God also has a way in helping with things like that, too, because he sees what you’re putting in, and he’s gonna help you put it out.”
Listen to Aiken’s full interview with 1290 here: