The journey for young athletes can be varied and many as they look to chase their dreams outside Guam. Big dreams take hard work and dedication with many giving up before tackling those challenges head on.
For Morgan Hikaru Aiken, a 2012 graduate and basketball standout from Saint Paul Christian School, that path has been a unique one. Aiken, the first player from Guam to play in the professional Japan Basketball League, is back on Guam while rehabilitating an injury. He has set his sights on giving back to young basketball players on island.
Originally from Hawaii, Aiken moved to Guam with his parents at the start of high school. After a semester at George Washington High School, he settled in at Saint Paul where he blossomed into one of the top players on island, even winning an Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam high school basketball title in 2011.
Aiken ran into his first major challenge in his senior year of high school. He broke his ankle which forced him to miss the first half of the season. It renewed his determination to follow his dream of playing college basketball.
“I used it as fuel to get better,” Aiken said of his injury.
An explosive player with over a 40-inch vertical, Aiken still struggled with getting noticed by off-island recruiters but he persevered and found an opportunity with Eastern University, a NCAA Division 3 college.
With the goal of getting into a Division 1 program, Aiken transferred to the University of Texas at El Paso the following year for an opportunity to walk on. However, more roadblocks landed in his way with his Division 3 credits failing to transfer. This made him ineligible due to a lack of credits.
Frustrated but not deterred, Aiken decided to take a completely different route and in 2015. With the help of an agent, he secured a tryout with the Akita Northern Happinets of the Japanese Professional League. The team liked what they saw from the point guard and Aiken was able to start practicing.
Unable to qualify as a free agent due to the team not having an available foreign player exemption, he could not sign with the Happinents. But his speed on the court got him noticed and he signed with the Tokyo Cinq Rêves for the remainder of the season. For the 2016-2017 season Aiken moved on to the Kagawa Five Arrows club.
Then came another ankle injury in July of this year while preparing for the season. “If I continued to play and hurt my ankle again, I was told by the doctor I would miss up to six months. So I decided to take time off, rehab and train toward a big dream I’ve been working for since I was 8,” Aiken told The Guam Daily Post.
Aiken hopes to find his next opportunity in an established professional league where he can get more exposure. Or, Aiken hopes, a potential tryout with a G-League team which is the equivalent to the minor leagues for the NBA.
But with that dream on hold and his focus on getting healthy, Aiken saw the opportunity to mentor younger players on Guam. “While back home, I thought it would be awesome to share my knowledge, develop the future athletes of Guam and share my knowledge that I’ve obtained playing pro,” he said.
Aiken will partner with other basketball players including his brother Reo Aiken, D’Angelo Gallardo, Jahmar White, Tony Hsieh, Takumi Simon and Monica Giger under his wing.
“He’s been there; he knows what it takes to go off island and play professional…the drills and workouts are what the pros are doing,” said Gallardo, a senior at Saint Paul.
“I’m just glad he’s back so I have a ride to practice,” joked Reo, a junior with the Warriors’ basketball team.
Aiken doesn’t consider himself a coach but more of a trainer with a wealth of on-the-court knowledge to pass down to the up-and-coming ballers. “I’m not a motivator so when I train I push individuals to elevate their skills, but also mentally."
Aiken shared that he hopes his teaching will motivate athletes to overcome uncomfortable environments by pushing them past their limit when they have nothing left in the tank. It’s a concept Aiken says he learned playing under high school coaches and mentors Paul Pineda and Stu Schaefer.
To Aiken, kids are too eager to be the next Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving but dont have the fundamentals necessary to play at the collegiate or professional level. “Small details and fundamentals go a long way,” Aiken said.
“I personally train one-on-one beach workouts to help with agility, strength, quickness and speed acceleration,” Aiken said.
Aiken started a brand “In Grind We Trust” to motivate youth to follow their passion and strive for their dream in all aspects of life. “If we can show the young guys what it takes to chase their dreams, whether on the court or education or whatever, it helps them get a vision for that dream and go after it,” Aiken said.
Aiken believes many of Guam’s athletes have the physical skills to compete internationally but lack the mental fortitude needed to evolve. “It is cutthroat and very competitive playing at the next level," said Aiken. He shared that the more work players are willing to put in on the basketball court the better off they will be as they "chase their dreams.”