For three years at the University of Kansas, Cole Aldrich, was literally the center of one the most dominant college basketball programs of the last decade. When the Jayhawks needed a spark down low or someone to make their presence felt in the crowed paint, snatching rebounds like apples off the branch of a low, hanging tree, Aldrich, was there.
In the three years that Aldrich wore a Jayhawk jersey, Kansas won three regular season titles, two conference tournament titles, were the #1 seed in two of three N.C.A.A. tournaments and won the whole thing in 2008. Last season, Kansas’ strength of schedule was ranked as the best in the country. They responded by winning the Big XII regular season and conference tournament championships.
He anchored the front line of most dominant college basketball team in the country in 2009 and the first two and a half months of 2010. It was a season in which Aldrich’s and the Jayhawks’ first loss didn’t come until the January 6 of this year, en route to a stunning second round exit at the hands of an upstart University of Northern Iowa team and shooting guard Ali Farokhmanesh. In that 67-69 loss, Aldrich amassed a double-double, scoring 13 points and pulling down 10 boards in just 27 minutes.
The Jayhawks overall record while Aldrich was at Kansas is an outstanding 97-14. That’s a win percentage of 87% and the defining characteristic of Aldrich’s game. The guy just knows how to win.
But that’s where the accolades end for the 6’9 245lbs center. Aldrich is listed at 6’11 in the Kansas Men’s Basketball media guide, but it’s safe to say, the Jayhawk athletic department is gifting him those two inches. When Aldrich stands next to pure seven foot centers, like Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan, next year (both of which he will have to contend with in the NBA’s loaded Western Conference) you’ll see that the Jayhawk athletic department would list me at 5’8 and I assure you, I’m 5’5 with high-top AF-1’s on.
The bigger problem for Aldrich though, will not be his height, but his weight. At a media guide-listed, 245lbs he can hardly be expected to put up with the rigors of an 82 game season, four games in five nights, and six day road trips, in which he may encounter Dwight Howard, Glen Davis and Amare Stoudemire all in succession. In this way, it’s probably best that Aldrich miss playing in the NBA’s summer league and get fat and happy. He doesn’t have a choice anyway.
The trade between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the New Orleans Hornets that got Aldrich, who was the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft, to the Thunder will not be NBA approved until July 8, when the new salary cap is released. But more than that, as the 11th overall pick, the front office and fans alike, will expect him to play this season.
The Oklahoman has reported that the Thunder have made plans to have second round pick and center, Tibor Pleiss, continue playing overseas next year in the German Bundesliga and leave power forward, Latavious Williams, who was the first NBA Developmental League player ever drafted in the NBA draft, in Tulsa, Oklahoma with the Tulsa 66ers.
Add those two moves with the uncertainty of the Thunder’s starting center Nenad Krstic’s future and the algebraic equation comes to Cole Aldrich picking up some serious minutes in a Thunder jersey.
Right now, on sheer pedigree alone, Aldrich is a better option off the bench than Serge Ibacka, Etan Thomas and B.J. Mullens and fifteen pounds from now could be a dominant threat and starter for the Thunder down low.
As it stands now, Aldrich has an upside and potential as good as any of the top-10 picks in the draft that were selected before him. Until he gets acquainted with playing and practicing regularly at an NBA level, expect him to stumble, expect him to fall, expect him to get beat up and hope that his Jayhawk pride lifts him from the hardwood. He’ll be spending a lot of time down there in his rookie season