Don’t forget Aldrich

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Not everybody playing in his last game in Allen Fieldhouse gets to give a speech tonight. When you’re 6-foot-11, have the wing span of a man 7-4 and are blessed with great shot-blocking timing, you don’t have a Senior Night. It’s spent working for an NBA team.

Even though tradition dictates this night belongs to Sherron Collins, the mere fact Cole Aldrich turned down sure millions to return to play his junior season at Kansas is reason enough to bring down the house for him when he gets to hear his name announced in the starting lineup for the final time.

All eyes have been on Sherron Collins all week in anticipation of his final home game. Preparing outside that glare, Cole Aldrich has every bit the motivation Collins does, even more.

Aldrich, who will announce after the season that he will make himself eligible for the NBA Draft, never has lost in Allen Fieldhouse. He’s 54-0. He doesn’t want to make his final taste a losing one.

His father, Walt, will be sitting in the family section along with his wife and a small gathering of other friends and family in from Bloomington, Minn.

Game night won’t become official for Cole until he receives the same text message from his dad he receives before every game: “Have fun and kick (three-letter version of tail).”

Walt, a construction worker who earned money as a teenager working a paper route — late baseball manager Billy Martin, then managing the Minnesota Twins, was one of his customers — has been living in Lawrence since Late Night. Permanent work has been difficult to come by, and he plans to return home Friday.

One of Walt’s temporary jobs found him sitting next to a Missouri grad who couldn’t help but ask, “Why didn’t you send Cole to Missouri?”

Walt recounted his answer over lunch at his favorite Lawrence hangout, Jo Shmo’s on Mass. St.

“Let’s see, five national titles, 53 conference titles,” Walt said.

He thought back to a time when Cole was in seventh or eighth grade playing in an AAU game in, he thought, Memphis.

“Cole blocked a shot with his right hand, and the ball ended up in the hands of another player,” Walt said. “That player put up a shot, and Cole reached out and blocked it with his left hand.”

He has been blocking shots in bunches ever since, this season doing it with a missing front tooth.

If you’ve heard it once from announcers, you’ve heard it a trillion times: “The best way to neutralize shot-blockers is to take it right at them.”

In the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season in Minneapolis, Dayton employed that strategy, enabling Aldrich to make some KU basketball history. In front of the hometown folks, Aldrich scored 13 points, collected 20 rebounds and blocked 10 shots, the first recorded triple-double in KU history. Blocked shots weren’t tracked in the days of Wilt Chamberlain and B.H. Born, but plenty of quality players came and went since it became an official stat.

One of those players was named Paul Pierce. On his final game at Allen Fieldhouse as a junior, he scored 31 points. Aldrich likely won’t match that total, but you can bet he’ll be plenty charged up running through the tunnel for the final time.