Just a freshman playing in his first Final Four last April, Cole Aldrich dominated the first half against North Carolina. He ruled the paint — crashing the glass, blocking and altering shots, and frustrating national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough.
At one point, Aldrich ripped an offensive rebound right out of the
hands of Hansbrough (6-9, 250), considered perhaps the toughest and
strongest player in college basketball.
The play was a telling statement. Cole David Aldrich had arrived on the
In the national semifinal featuring up to nine future NBA players, KU
coach Bill Self “thought Cole was the best player in the game
in the first half. He may have won the game for us as much as anybody
because he bought us so many great minutes” with big men
Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson on the bench with two fouls.
Aldrich came up huge in the first half with six points, six rebounds
and three blocks in 13 minutes. He finished the contest with eight
points, seven boards and four blocks.
The 6-11 center said he was wide-eyed coming into the game after
watching countless Final Fours growing up in Bloomington, Minn. But he
was poised and relentless playing on the biggest stage of his life.
“It was fun,” Aldrich said. “I just took
the opportunity and came out and tried to hold my own. I played well
and had a blast. It definitely gave me confidence. Just playing against
the best guy in college basketball and playing well, it really made me
think that maybe I do have a little skill.”
Now a sophomore, Aldrich’s coming-out party against the Tar
Heels has raised the expectations for this budding star. One of only
two returning players (along with junior point guard Sherron Collins)
who played meaningful minutes last season, Aldrich will go from the
fourth big man on the roster to the starting center for the defending
For Aldrich and KU, the new season starts on Tuesday as the Jayhawks
open exhibition play against Washburn at 7 p.m. in Allen Fieldhouse.
After averaging 2.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in 8.3 minutes per game
last season, Aldrich is looking forward to his expanded role.
“I’m really excited,” he said.
“It’s basically night and day. Being behind three
other guys (Jackson, Kaun and Darrell Arthur) last year, now
I’m one of the main guys. It’s really exciting to
go through the transition of progressing over the course of my freshman
year to sophomore year and the different expectations that come with
Self certainly has high hopes for his sophomore center.
“He’s a lot better,” Self said in August.
“He’s taking much more of an active role.
He’s looking to score (in practice) every time he touches it,
which is good. Cole’s doing great.”
“There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be
one of the better big men performers in our league,” Self
added at media day in October. “He may not be a 15 points a
game guy, but you should be able to pencil him in for double figure
production and seven to eight rebounds every night. He’s got
a great skill set, and he’s getting tougher all the time. The
North Carolina game did wonders for his confidence in my opinion. He
had a great off-season in large part because he was so confident
Aldrich said he had a “really productive summer.”
He served as a counselor at the Adidas Nations camp in Dallas, where he
scrimmaged with some of the best college players in the country. When
he wasn’t in summer school in Lawrence playing pickup ball
with his teammates, he went home to Bloomington and worked out with one
of his friends.
Aldrich gave a glimpse of what’s to come during
KU’s three exhibition games in Ottawa, Ontario on Aug. 30-31.
He had 10 points, 18 rebounds, six blocks and four steals against
McGill, and finished the tour averaging 12 points, 11 rebounds and a
team-high 3.0 blocks per game. He also shot a sizzling 60 percent from
the field and 92.3 percent (12-13 FT) from the charity stripe.
He’s committed to continuing to work hard and producing this
season. After all, that’s the work ethic his parents,
Kathleen and Walt, have instilled in him his entire life.
“That’s really all my dad has taught me was just to
go out and put in your hard work and it will definitely pay
off,” Aldrich said.
The Minnesota native believes he’s come a long way since the
beginning of his freshman year. He was a sponge throughout the season,
learning the nuances of the college game and the importance of
footwork, angles, and post defense.
He progressed each day learning from assistant coach Danny Manning and
battling Kaun, Arthur and Jackson in practice. Aldrich led KU with nine
rebounds in 12 minutes against Missouri in early February, and recorded
his first career double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds in 17
minutes against Texas Tech on Senior Night a month later.
Aldrich finished third on the team in blocks with 34.
“When I got out on the court at the (start) of the season, I
was kind of lost, how fast everything was,” Aldrich said.
“Finally, toward the end of the season, things started to
slow down. I really got to know a lot of things. Just with the help of
Darnell and the other two big guys, I really learned a lot.”
He said he also learned invaluable leadership skills from the five
seniors. With a year’s experience and KU losing five players
who were selected in the NBA Draft, Aldrich knows it’s now
time to become a leader himself and show the way to the seven
newcomers, just as he led as a star player at Jefferson High School.
“In high school, being viewed as one of the better guys on
the team, that’s one of your expectations to lead by example
and lead by saying stuff,” Aldrich said.
Aldrich’s mission is to lead KU to another national title. He
said he still gets goosebumps every time he watches highlights of Mario Chalmers’ game-tying three-pointer in the NCAA final against
Of course, The Shot sent KU into overtime as the Jayhawks won their
first national title in 20 years.
“We finally know how to win the national championship, and we
know it’s not easy at all,” Aldrich said.
“We’re just hoping to teach these young guys that
is the way we play Kansas basketball. We really stress getting to the
title game and playing in the biggest games we can play. It’s
going to be a little different without having some of our seniors and
those guys from last year, but it’s a whole new start and
we’re (ready to go).”
It’s hard not to get excited listening to Aldrich talk.
He’s a happy-go-lucky 20-year-old who has endeared himself to
his coaches, KU fans, his teammates and even reporters with his good
cheer and affable nature. Even though Aldrich towers above everybody on
campus, the student body can identify with him as one of their own.
Aldrich is down to earth and always has a friendly word to say.
He’s just one of the guys eating at his favorite restaurant
Backyard Burger, bowling at the Kansas Union, or playing video games.
Sophomore guard Conner Teahan loves being around the big man,
who’s been nicknamed “Fly Swatter” by his
“Cole is just Cole all the time,” Teahan said.
“He never changes. He’s the same way.
He’s always the kind of lanky guy walking around, having a
good time and telling jokes. What he says to his best friend,
he’ll say to anybody. It doesn’t matter who you
are, it doesn’t matter if he just met you or not.
He’s going to be himself and he’s not going to be
anybody else. That’s what is so great about him.”
The NBA scouts think quite fondly of Aldrich as well. They’ll
be watching his every move this season and charting his improvement.
One scout said Aldrich likely needs at least two more years in college,
and then should have a long NBA career. The scout added that Aldrich
has already made great strides since he saw the freshman during his
early days at practice last season.
“He was a really long way off, but he progressed and got a
little better every time I saw him,” the scout said.
“I think in the Final Four, that was probably the best he was
capable of playing. It’s good to see where he’s
reached that level of potential. I still think he’s got some
parts of his game that he needs to improve.
“There’s some guys in the (NBA) that
don’t score and aren’t that skilled but are in the
rotation on good teams. I think that’s what he’s
going to be. If he can develop some more offensive skills, just where
he can at least be a threat to score ... I think he’s an NBA
defender and NBA hustler guy. There’s guys in our league
doing what he does.”
The scout believes this should be a telling year for Aldrich.
“He wasn’t asked to do a whole lot of scoring last
year,” the scout said. “This year, he’s
going to have to do a little more. We’ll see if
he’s ready for that step. He has the body, he’s got
the motor, which I love most about him. He’s a very hard
working, unselfish kid, and those kids tend to find a niche in our
“He plays hard every minute he’s on the
floor,” the scout added. “He’s going to
play physical, he’s going to play tough, he’s going
to play strong. There’s not many guys in our league who want
to do that. They want the ball, where he can play without the ball and
be effective and impact the game.”
This scout said Aldrich reminds him of a “smaller Joel Przybilla,” the 7-1 blue collar center for the
Portland Trail Blazers. Przybilla is a proven shot blocker and a big
“He’s (also) a little like David Lee (6-9 forward
with the New York Knicks), not as skilled or athletic,” the
scout said. “Jeff Foster (Indiana Pacers 6-11 center), those
kind of guys, the bangers, physical, screen, rebound, defend, hustle.
He’s one of those guys where a coach is going to watch him in
a workout and be like, ‘What does he do?’ Then you
put him on the floor in a game and it’s pretty hard to take
him off the floor.”
Teahan believes Aldrich will surprise people with his offense
“Cole is a great player,” Teahan said.
“We saw that at the end of the year last year. He’s
a tough matchup, just because he’s so long. He’s
got a good shot, too. People haven’t seen that from him, but
he can shoot the ball. He’s got a pretty good 17-to-18-foot
jump shot. It might not be the prettiest thing, but it goes in every
time. I would never give him any space. I think he’ll fit
into (the main) role pretty well, and obviously him and Sherron will
have to carry a pretty big load this year.”
Just like Aldrich did against North Carolina last April in the Final
Four. This NBA scout agrees with Self that Aldrich “was a
major, major reason why (KU) won that game. Just his energy. He
didn’t back down from Hansbrough, which I think sent a
message to the rest of the team. He got them extra possessions, extra
And after the game, Aldrich got a special message from Tar
Heels’ coach Roy Williams, the former Jayhawk head man for 15
years. Aldrich actually chose Kansas over UNC and Minnesota.
“He just said ‘great job, go win it for
us,’” Aldrich recalled. “Roy knows what
Kansas tradition is. He really knows what the Kansas fans
Aldrich just wants to build on his play against Hansbrough and the Tar
Heels and come up big every game this year. He’s prepared to
meet the challenge and show Jayhawk fans his improved skills.
His first chance is Tuesday night against Washburn.
“There’s obviously going to be a little pressure
because we play at such a great place with great tradition and great
fans, and everybody wants to see you do well,” Aldrich said.
“That’s what is so (great) about Kansas is because
they want the best and want to see the best. You got to go out and have
fun and just play your own game.”
Self thinks Jayhawk fans will see Aldrich’s
‘A’ game this year. With his strong defense,
rebounding and shot blocking abilities, Self believes Aldrich will make
an indelible mark on Kansas basketball.
“I don’t know if there’s going to be a
better big guy to play at Kansas in many, many years,” Self
Making His Mark On KU Basketball
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