Kansas City, Mo. He was behind the play, and then he was the play. Kansas University reserve freshman center Cole Aldrich slammed home a missed shot with two hands to trigger a huge ovation from the crowd and the KU bench late in Saturday's 88-51 victory against Ohio University in the Sprint Center.
"I was running back, being the trailer, I saw it come off, and I'm like, 'I hope it comes off my way,' and it did, and I put it back home," Aldrich said. "It was fun. It was just exhilarating doing that in front of the TV cameras with all my friends and family watching back home."
Aldrich, a 6-foot-11, 245-pound native of Bloomington, Minn., has been scoring in a variety of ways as the second big man off the bench. Short bank shots, hook shots, put-backs off the glass, dunks.
In the past three games, against Eastern Washington, DePaul and Ohio, Aldrich has played a combined 33 minutes, time enough to total 18 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Aldrich has played as many as 15 minutes in four games, but it has been during his practice time, he said, that he has progressed the most. Seniors Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun and sophomore Darrell Arthur have gotten most of the post player minutes, but Aldrich looks more comfortable all the time.
"I'd love to be playing major minutes and whatnot, but I love Sasha, Darnell and Shady, so if they're doing their thing, I'm happy, and I'm cheering them on," Aldrich said.
Playing daily against the three players he mentioned has sped up Aldrich's improvement.
"We all hit each other in practice," Jackson said. "There's no brother-in-law ball. We don't play soft with each other. We do that, and nobody is going to get better. If you get hit in the mouth with an elbow, it's, 'You all right?' 'Yeah.' Then we just keep playing through it. It was real tough on Cole at the beginning because he wasn't used to playing against big guys in high school. He has a long way to go, but he's learning. He asks questions every day."
Aldrich's role will expand with the departure of Kaun, Jackson and perhaps Arthur, but nobody's waiting until next season for him to be a significant contributor.
"Cole is going to bring a lot to the table this year, especially when Big 12 ball comes," Jackson said. "I see it. The coaches see it. Everybody sees it. He's getting better every day."