Aaron Bright has three goals for his Stanford career: win a national championship, get his degree—“My mom would kill me if I didn’t get my degree!”—and be considered an All-Pac-10 player by the time that he graduates.
Though all three may seem like long-term aspirations for the freshman from Bellevue, Wash., Bright—whose basketball career began at the young age of three—is already well on his way to carving out a niche as a major contributor on this year’s Stanford men’s basketball team.
In his inaugural collegiate season, Bright has already tallied significant minutes on the court—the point guard has played in all 18 of the Card’s games thus far, earning starts in seven, and is averaging 20.1 minutes per game, second among all underclassmen. He boasts a team-high 91.7-percent foul-shot percentage, has dished out 42 assists and is the team’s third-best from behind the arc, with 18 three-pointers on the year.
“Aaron is a terrific player, and we’re very excited about his upside,” said head coach Johnny Dawkins. “He’s a young man who is very versatile. Even though he’s a point guard, he’s a capable shooter, he’s really quick, he’s capable of getting to the basket and making plays for himself or his teammates. He brings the ability to make us better.”
His statistics and accolades from Dawkins are all the more impressive considering that Bright has had to adjust to a completely different role on the court—from the leading scorer of his high school team to a primary distributor in college—within a matter of months, a transition that he described as “a little bit” tough.
“In high school, my role was to score the ball,” Bright explained. “Then when I came here, my role changed dramatically. I’m not the first option to score anymore. My main job is to set guys up, and I’m not really the focus of attention on offense.”
In addition to his significant role change, Bright has also become keenly aware of the increased physical and mental demands of Division I ball in comparison to his prep career.
“I think the hardest part of transitioning from high school to college is how everything is so intense,” Bright explained. “In high school you think you’re going hard, but then you go back to your high school and you realize, ‘I had it way easier than what I thought.’ Everything is faster and more intense and more tiring.”
The sharp-shooting point guard stands out from his teammates on the court for a number of reasons, from his quickness to his bicep tattoo to his stature. Listed at 5-foot-11, Bright is physically smaller than many of his peers, a characteristic that he has both struggled with and learned to use to his advantage.
“On defense I just really try and pressure the ball and use my quickness,” he said. “I’m already low to the ground, so I kind of have an advantage in that aspect, and if guys try to like post me up or, you know, get real close to the basket then I just get low and they can’t get the ball.
“It’s been hard because I can’t do the stuff that I could do in high school in college,” he added. “In high school, I could just go by my man, lay the ball up and not have to worry about it. Now if I go by my man, I’m going to get my shot blocked or something. So I just have to find alternative ways to score and make my team successful.”
But blocked shots and competitive Pac-10 foes are just some of the new challenges that the freshman faces. Not only does Bright have to adjust to a new life on the Farm, he has to do so while balancing the rigorous task of being both a Stanford student and athlete, with little free time to relax in between.
“I usually wake up, go to class and then after class, I’ll go shoot,” he described. “And then after I shoot, we’ll have practice, and after practice, we go eat at Jimmy V’s—by that time it’s probably 8:00 or 8:30. Then homework, and then it’s a wrap.”
“So just class, shoot, practice, that’s my day,” he laughed.
But in many ways, Bright—who insists that he is no celebrity in his FloMo dorm—is not so different from his non-athlete peers. He is still undecided about what he plans to study (after a brief dabble in psychology, he is now considering music), he can’t get enough of the blue skies and sunshine in January and appreciates the opportunity to “take a nap here and there” in the middle of the day. He enjoys shopping and weekend dinner outings to University Avenue.
He is less fond, however, of the lengthy cross-campus bike rides that he makes every day between Maples Pavilion and his residence.
“Biking after practice is so tiring. You do not want to do it,” he said. “It’s like a legit 10-minute bike ride. It’s uphill and the campus is so big. And I don’t like it.”
Bike woes aside, Bright’s primary focus for this season is to improve himself as a player.
“I mainly just want to get better and to secure a starting position,” he said. “I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on myself because then I’ll start playing badly. I just want to get better and see where that leads.”
“And to make the crowd like me,” he added with a smile.