All-American Aldridge Spurns NBA For UT Hoops

Finally, it's clear: <B>LaMarcus Aldridge </B>is a Steer. The power forward announced his decision to forgo the NBA draft (at least for this year) during a Tuesday press conference at the Cooley Pavilion on the Texas campus. He becomes the third McDonald's All-American that head coach <B>Rick Barnes </B>has lassoed for the 2004-05 season.

In April, Aldridge signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball next season at Texas but tossed his name into the NBA draft pool to explore his professional status.

"I've said all along that I was coming to school," said Aldridge, who is currently enrolled in UT's first summer session. "I was just exploring my options and trying to keep everything open."

The Seagoville product finished ranked as the nation's No. 12 high school prospect by, and completes what many consider to be the nation's top-ranked recruiting class. So highly touted was Aldridge that some at one time projected him as a potential NBA lottery pick later this month. However, a stress fracture in his back suffered during a pre-season tournament game last year may have caused his stock to slip until he can prove that he can withstand a season of pounding in a rugged basketball conference.

"Since I didn't get to work out (for NBA scouts), I was told I would be top 20 or 25 (draft pick)," Aldridge said. "Maybe a second rounder."

The 6-11 Aldridge, who predicted a full recovery within two months, said he is now tipping the scales at 230 (up 15 pounds from what UT officials reported last April). And, friends, there ain't an once of fat on him.

Aldridge now joins a group of four fall signees that represent what many are calling the most talented class in Longhorn basketball history: Connor Atchley (Houston), Dion Dowell (Texas City), Daniel Gibson (Houston) and Mike Williams (Camden, Ala). Gibson and Williams, who are also McDonald's All-Americans, exerted their influence in convincing Aldridge to join them next season.

"They played a real big part (in the decision)," said Aldridge, who got the hard sell from his future teammates when they convened during the McDonald's All-American basketball game in late March. "It's a really good class. If we come in and work hard, anything can happen."

Aldridge averaged 28.9 points and 13.4 rebounds per game during his senior season while leading his team to the Class 4A state quarterfinals. Already, he is considered a Carmelo Anthony-type talent. It begs the question: will Aldridge likewise jump to the NBA after just one year of collegiate hoops?

"No one can say how long they will be anywhere," Aldridge said, before adding, "In college, you can learn so much. I want to learn as much as I can for as long as I'm here so I can become a better player."

While many have dubbed Barnes' class as the nation's best, several hoops pundits have also suggested that college basketball has not seen a Fab Five like this since Michigan's notable quintet led the Wolverines to the national title game in 1992 and in 1993. Aldridge, meanwhile, has already made his pre-season prediction for Longhorns:

"No lower than the Final Four," he said, "but that's just me."

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