Dancin' Shoes

When told by a reporter on Thursday that Thomas Robinson believed himself to be the best dancer on the team, Cole Aldrich just shook his head and smiled.

The reaction is a by-product of his status as a veteran of Late Night in the Phog, where bragging rights are won not on the basketball court, but on the dance floor. 

Friday will mark Cole Aldrich's third Late Night as a player – his sixth overall – and when asked for his favorite memory from the event, the lanky Minnesotan didn't hesitate. 

"I remember, and Connor (Teahan), Chase (Buford) and Tyrel (Reed) will tell you, our freshman year when we were out here dancing, we made ESPN's "Top 10," he reminisced, thinking of the 2007 season-opening celebration. "It was fun. Late Night is fun."

Which, of course, is what allows him to chuckle confidently at Robinson's estimation of his own ability to bust a move. In dancing, as in hoops, everything is bigger when you're a basketball player at the University of Kansas.

Being able to do it on the practice court in front of maybe 20 people? That's easy, Aldrich said. Try doing it in front of 16,000 of the KU faithful.

"That's what all of us juniors are telling the young guys," he added. "They say that they're really good dancers, but I think we're the best dancers so far. We've made the (Sportscenter) Top 10."

Underneath the fun, Friday might mark something of a bittersweet occasion for Aldrich and fellow team leader Sherron Collins. It's a distinct possibility that the duo will be preparing for their first season in the NBA at this time next year – Aldrich due to early entry, and Collins due to graduation – meaning this Late Night could be their last.

Knowing how much the tradition means to Kansas fans, and to the players and coaches themselves, makes that reality a little hard to swallow, Collins, said. Which isn't to say that it's all bad news.

"It's fun at the same time, knowing it's your last one," the senior point guard said, with a laugh. "Because I don't have to do another Boot Camp ever again."

Of course, Late Night isn't all about fun and games. As much as it's a chance for the players to cut loose with the fans, the annual event also officially kicks off the season – and for this flock of Jayhawks, the expectations couldn't be higher.

The pre-season accolades for the team are already flooding in, with most expecting Kansas to own a clear-cut number one ranking when the first official polls are released.

It's the type of attention that can easily push a young team off its course, but Aldrich insists that won't be an issue.

"It's a little tough (keeping focus), but at the same time it's not because I think we have a pretty humble group of guys," he said. "A lot of guys that are still hungry, because we ended on kind of a sour note against Michigan State. Knowing that we were in the game, but we just kind of let that opportunity slip between our fingers. This year, we know that we can't have that happen."

Much has been said about the work the players have put in during the off-season, but Collins knows that the first official step to Indianapolis and the 2010 Final Four begins at Late Night in the Phog.

Though the team may have been dedicated before, Friday night kicks it to a whole new level.

"We're in a little bit of 'game mode,' but we've still got to refocus and get ready to go," he said. "We're not a team yet. We've still got a lot of work to do."

"We were focused over the summer, trying to get better and trying to get stronger," Aldrich added. "But now we see the start of it and we're really getting excited."

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