Last season, the 6-foot-11-inch Aldrich averaged a double-double (14.9 points and 11.1 rebounds) — a combination of size and stats that made NBA teams salivate. Aldrich could have declared for the NBA draft; he was a projected lottery pick, which would have guaranteed millions. It was a tough decision for the big man from Bloomington, Minnesota, who had dreamed of playing against Dwight Howard and Shaq, sharing a court with Kobe and LeBron. Aldrich talked with friends. He talked with his family. And he talked with Sherron Collins, a senior guard also coveted by pro scouts.
"We knew that, ultimately, if we stayed another year, we could get that much better and get that much more experience," Aldrich says of his and Collins' conversations. "We both wanted to have that opportunity to play in the NBA, but we didn't want to be the guys who are in the league for two or three years and are out. We really wanted to just put ourselves in a position where we could have one of those really long careers playing basketball."
So Aldrich is still a Jayhawk. He returns to a loaded team, with Collins also still aboard and with one of the top high-school basketball recruits in the nation, Xavier Henry. If he had gone the other way, he would be talking today about the upcoming grind of an 82-game NBA regular season. And he would probably not use the word fun with the offhand excitement — with the frequency — that he uses it now, answering questions about why he has remained in Lawrence. But that's one reason he says he stayed: because playing for KU is fun.
Another reason: the people, who are "so warm and so nice," he says. "Leaving a town that I truly feel a part of would have been tough."
But ask Aldrich what he's most excited about, and it's not chasing a Big 12 title or another NCAA trophy. It's becoming an Academic All-American.
"I'm really close right now," he says. "If I have a real good semester, I can get to be Academic All-American. That would be huge."
Aldrich, a communications major, is the first person in his immediate family to go to college. He's sincere about wanting no part of the jock stereotype. Right now, he says, his GPA is 3.2. The target is 3.5. Aldrich has a plan: "Study hard," he says. He says it again: "Study hard."
It's a workmanlike approach that his father, Walter Aldrich, a sheet metal worker, instilled in him.
"I really look up to my dad a lot," Aldrich says. "He just keeps on fighting. He's had a long day at work, and then he's cooking dinner. He's a volunteer fireman, so he gets a call for a fire, he's out doing that. He might get a call at 2:30 a.m., and he's got to wake up right in the morning and then he's got to work at 5. So he'll go from the fire call to basically working for 10 hours."
When Cole Aldrich is ready to go pro, maybe the millions of dollars he makes will help his parents out, let them leave their jobs.
"My dad, he's a workaholic," he says. "I'm sure he'll still be chugging along until he's not going to be able to work anymore. Same with my mom [Kathleen]. She's a really hard worker, too."
So is Cole Aldrich.
— Justin Kendall
(Photo by Angela C. Bond)