KU Freshmen Enjoying Tourney Experience

They watched the Big Dance since they were little kids. They saw the drama, they witnessed the heartbreak, and they reveled in the excitement of March Madness.

Now, Kansas freshmen Cole Aldrich, Conner Teahan, and Tyrel Reed are a part of the NCAA Tournament and making their own lasting memories.

On March 19, a day before KU played Portland State in the opening round, the three freshmen sat next to each other in the crowded Jayhawk locker room and spoke about the Big Dance. While most reporters were huddled around the star players on the other side of the room, these three freshmen were just happy to be here and enjoying every moment of their experience.

“It’s pretty crazy,” said Reed, who grew up a huge KU fan in Eureka, Kan., before moving to Burlington before high school. “I always watched the NCAA Tournament since I was little, and now being a part of it, it’s a different experience. It’s just fun being (here) now.”

Reed said he always filled out his tournament brackets growing up with KU his pick to win it all.

“(When) they lost, I was pretty devastated so I didn't even care about my bracket anymore,” Reed said. “Probably the toughest game I had to watch was when  Michael Lee got (his shot) blocked by Hakim Warrick (with seconds remaining in KU’s 81-78 loss to Syracuse in the national championship game in 2003). That was probably the one I remember the most, just because it was so close and they had such a good chance.”

Reed was thrilled to play in KU’s 85-61 victory over Portland State. He had one assist in two minutes, and then recorded a steal in one minute in the Jayhawks’ 75-56 second-round victory over UNLV on March 22.

“It was a blast,” he said after the Portland State game. “All the other guys did a great job and gave everyone a chance to play.”

Teahan is also having a blast during the NCAA Tournament. He saw his first action in the Portland State game as well when KU coach Bill Self inserted the freshman with 1:06 remaining in the game. Teahan had an opportunity to score a layup, but passed it down and brought the ball back outside.

“It was everything I expected,” Teahan said. “I was kind of disappointed that I really couldn’t put up any points, but it was a lot of fun. I had a great time. Everybody’s going to give me trouble (about not shooting the layup). I didn’t realized I was that open, I thought there was somebody guarding the basket, and I kind of pulled it back out. I regret the decision now. I wish I would have known.”

Teahan also played a minute against UNLV, and did not score.

Like Reed, Teahan was a big KU fan growing up in Kansas City, Mo., and remembers the KU-Syracuse national title game quite well. Teahan watched the game in his living room with his parents

“I remember watching the game in the first half, and being all mad because we got down early,” Teahan said. “I’d say that was probably my best experience because that’s the furthest Kansas went. I watched the whole game. I was so excited for them and everything. Then at the very end when Kirk Hinrich missed the three at the buzzer, my heart dropped. I thought he had it.”

Five years later, the bright-eyed Teahan is making his own tournament memories.

“It’s like nothing I have experience before,” he said before the Portland State game. “I’m kind of in awe because of all the years I’ve watched it and making brackets. But to really be a part of it and being in this (locker) room right now, it’s just awe inspiring.’

Unlike Teahan and Reed, Aldrich didn’t grow up a Jayhawk booster in snowy Bloomington, Minn. He was a Gophers’ fan and always rooted for them in the Big Dance, but that all changed once he was recruited by Kansas as a freshman in high school and went to his first KU game in Allen Fieldhouse.

“Once I became a die-hard Jayhawk fan, I always had them going to the final (in his tournament bracket) and winning it,” Aldrich said.

Aldrich, too, vividly remembers the KU-Syracuse national championship game. He was in the eighth grade, so was not yet being recruited by Kansas. Aldrich said he had no rooting interest in the final, he “just wanted to see a real close game.”

“(That) was a great game to watch,” he said.

Aldrich especially loved watching the opening games of the tournament growing up, and of course, the Final Four.

“Those first three or four days, I thought were always the funnest games because everyone was playing,” he said. “All my buddies (would say), ‘Hey, this team really just killed my bracket.’ I just started laughing. I guess that’s how it is. Once it gets down to the few teams (at) the end, it really gets exciting.’

And Aldrich is now living the dream of March Madness.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” he said before the Portland State game. “Just seeing all the media people and everybody around, it’s getting real exciting. Gosh, I remember trying to get out of class last year and trying to catch a game or two. ‘What’s the score? What’s the score?’ It’s going to be a fun deal.”

Aldrich certainly had fun against Portland State when he scored his first bucket in the Big Dance, a layup with 4:10 remaining in the game. He posted two points, two rebounds, two steals, and one assist in 10 minutes.

“It was great,” Aldrich said afterwards. “I was a little nervous getting out there at first, but once I got in the flow, it was just another game.”

But his basket was pretty special. Aldrich was happy to score his first bucket in the NCAA Tournament.

“Being the first basket I made, I can kind of joke around with my buddies, ‘I got a basket, you don’t yet,” he said with a laugh.

The freshman center scored two more points in three minutes against UNLV.

After watching all the tournament games since childhood, Aldrich and his two freshman teammates would love to have their own shining moment and cut down the championship nets in San Antonio on April 7.

“It would mean a lot,” Teahan said. “That’s obviously our ultimate goal. For that to happen, just seeing the 1988 (championship) team this year having the 20-year reunion, you kind of just think, ‘I want to do that.’”

In two weeks, that dream could become reality.

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