GAME DAY FEATURE: C.J. Aiken
Dec. 22, 2012
by Connor Dehel '15
A Jesuit education prides itself on growth. Not just growth in the classroom, but growth in all facets of life, the cura personalis. The growth and care for the entire person.
Junior C.J. Aiken has grown quite a lot in his time here on Hawk Hill. Not in the sense of his height - he's fulfilled that - but in the sense of character development.
Aiken's resume of accomplishments is worth noting. Defeating cancer as a child, being named the Class AAAA Player of the Year in high school, and being chosen the Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year a season ago is very impressive.
Aiken is comfortable on here on Hawk Hill, and he's very close with his teammates and coaches. Aiken instills fear in his opposition, as his 6-foot-9 frame and his supernatural ability for timing blocks and altering shots is always a main point of concern for opposing teams. At times it seems he defies all laws of physics as he soars to throw down a vicious slam.
However, this jack of all trades wasn't always so comfortable in his setting at Saint Joseph's.
Like any freshman, Aiken was nervous coming into his first semester on Hawk Hill and was homesick.
"I was definitely shy, I wasn't really sure what to expect coming in here," he said. "I remember when class was over I went right back home. I didn't really sleep here much but when I first got here I guess you could say that I was nervous."
Aiken's family home is in Conshohocken, just a mere ten miles from Hagan Arena, which allowed him to spend time with his six siblings and his mother Gloria.
After days and nights spent at his home during his freshman year, his mother and his brother had had enough.
"My brother and my mom told me that I should be staying at school more, getting to know the team, just meeting new people," said Aiken.
So he did. Aiken began to stay at school more; he allowed his teammates to help him break out of his shell and allow Saint Joseph's and its community to grow on him. When Aiken began to be more comfortable on Hawk Hill, it vastly improved the team chemistry and the team's success.
"C.J. was a homebody, but I'm glad we were able to make him come out of his shell," said Aiken's classmate and teammate Ronald Roberts, Jr. "It definitely took our chemistry to the next level."
Without a doubt, head coach Phil Martelli played a part in helping the young forward to become more comfortable with his new surroundings. Martelli and Aiken have known each other since C.J.'s freshman year in high school. It's safe to say that Martelli knows Aiken fairly well.
"I'm just comfortable with him, I can just talk to him about anything, about basketball, about life," Aiken said. "But he has had a big impact on my life, he's the man to me." Aiken then started laughing about Martelli and his texting habits.
"He's been sending out texts every day, I'm not sure if he just figured out how to send them or something, because he's been sending them a lot," he chuckled.
Aiken's résumé is very extensive for that of a 22-year-old. At the age of seven, Aiken was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma, and he defeated the disease a short while later. In high school, Aiken was named the Pennsylvania Class AAAA Player of the Year due to his dominant performance at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School. This past season, Aiken was named the Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year and ranked fifth in the nation in blocked shots with 3.53 blocks per game.
That being said, Aiken is not a player who "showboats" after a huge dunk that sends the 54th Airborne and the rest of Hagan Arena into frenzy. He will not wag his finger after sending an opponent's shot into the abyss. The most Aiken will do is smile a little as he runs back to the opposite end of the court.
"Teammates always ask me why I never yell or something after a big play. I've never been like that. Even when I'm with my family I am just humble and laid back, I'm just that type of person," stated Aiken.
Don't get him wrong, he does feed off the crowd's energy and he remembers some dunks more than others.
"I think the whole team feeds off the fan energy; if I block a shot and the crowd goes crazy, I think we feed off of that," he said. "After the Villanova game last year, after all of those dunks that Tay (senior guard Carl Jones) threw me, I was really hyped up after that. This year, during the American game, there was a point where we were losing and I dunked and got hyped up because I know we could come back and win."
Aiken is constantly being pushed to do more, to perform better in the classroom and on the court. Saint Joseph's and the Jesuits classify this principle as the "magis" and the constant quest for living greater.
Teammate Daryus Quarles is one of the people who constantly pushes Aiken to "live greater."
"Daryus and I are exactly alike; we push each other," he said. "This semester we had every single class together; if he didn't feel like going to class or I didn't feel like going to class, we would push each other to go. On the court, he'll tell me if I'm being lazy and I'll tell him the same thing."
Aiken is a public figure on campus; students often go out of their way to greet the highly-touted defensive stalwart. When Aiken goes to get food at various eateries, he is often questioned if he plays basketball due to his highly unique frame.
"Sometimes people just see how tall I am and they just want to talk to me," he said. "When I go to Wendy's, I get a lot of questions."
Aiken has come a long way from once being the kid who went home after each game to being a kid who embraces the "C-J AI-KEN" chants after he makes a big play, to a kid who holds his head up high while walking around campus, to a kid who has the spirit and pride of the University burning bright inside of him.
"I've seen myself grow a lot on Hawk Hill," he revealed. "I'm just more comfortable with the team. The past two summers we've just been hanging with each other a lot more since we're allowed to work out with the coaching staff. Everyone was around this summer so it was easy. But I've seen myself grown a lot since freshman year on and off the court."
With just a year and a half left at Saint Joseph's, Aiken has ample amount of time to leave his mark on the campus, achieve new accolades, and to grow even more as he continues to reject shots and produce electrifying dunks.