Tag Archives: Cole Aldrich

Finally Four…

So here it is, Saturday night of the Final Four. Four teams. Two games. Two spots in the national title game on Monday night.

There are those who love the Super Bowl. There are those who worship Sunday at the Masters. There are those who would pick the Kentucky Derby or the World Series or the NBA Finals.

But for me, this is the best sports day of the year.

What other day gives you TWO games in the same venue. Four legions of fans, all in the same building. Close to five hours of college basketball at the highest level.

I love everything about the Final Four. I love the storylines and the cheesy music and Jim Nantz on the microphone.

And I love all the stories that come out of the ultimate hoops festival.

Love the fact that you might step into an elevator with David Robinson. Love the fact that you might see legendary Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan strolling around a hotel lobby at 8:30 in the morning, looking like an old man trying to get an early start on his day of sightseeing.

Love the fact that you might randomly walk past a restaurant patio as former UCLA star Ed O’Bannon takes his seat (and a group of UCLA fans begins an impromptu chant of “EDDIE-O, EDDIE-O, EDDIE-O”).

Love the fact that you might randomly see former Wisconsin center Brian Butch walking down the street by himself and think — hey, it’s Brian Butch.

Love the college three-point and dunk contests that take place during Final Four weekend.*

*The following exchange took place during the college dunk contest at this year’s Final Four in Indianapolis.

Chris Roberts, who was a senior at Bradley this past season, had just thrown down a sick dunk and ESPN reporter Holly Rowe was waiting on the sidelines to interview him.

Rowe: So, Chris, what do you have to do to win this thing?
Roberts: Just go out, and keep making dunks

Well, sure… makes sense.

And lastly, I love the fact that you might accidentally pick a fight with a player from one of the Final Four teams just hours before the games begin.*

*All these things happened to me while I was at the 2008 Final Four in San Antonio, but the last one was the best. I was walking around the Riverwalk with Mark Dent and Daily Kansan photographer Jon Goering, and we stopped outside in a small patio area.

Of course, the talk turned to KU’s game against North Carolina, which would take place later on that night. We were half-heartedly breaking down North Carolina’s team, and Mark and I came to the consensus that the Tar Heels’ Danny Green was ridiculously overrated.

Then, as Mark blurted aloud that he thought Green more or less sucked, we turned around and saw Green standing just 10 feet away from us with a kid who looked like his younger brother.

Two things crossed my mind:

1. I really hope Danny Green didn’t hear us.
2. What the hell is Green doing here? KU plays North Carolina in like five hours.

But there’s still one thing that gives the Final Four its soul. And it’s the players.

You probably know that Kansas’ Cole Aldrich is leaving school early to enter the NBA Draft.

He announced his decision earlier this week at a press conference in Lawrence.

Aldrich had a pretty remarkable career at Kansas. He had a triple-double against Dayton in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. He never lost a game at Allen Fieldhouse. And he was a third-team All-American as a junior.

Still, as Aldrich reflected on three years at Kansas during his “I’m going to the NBA” press conference, I wonder if he thought about the night he went from little-used freshman to Kansas legend. The night he stepped off the bench and outplayed North Carolina’s national player of the year, Tyler Hansbrough, in front of the entire nation.

I can still remember the look on Aldrich face after Kansas took down Hansbrough and Roy Williams and the rest of the Tar Heels.

…The look on his face as he was asked about ripping a rebound from the clutches of Hansbrough.

It was a mix of pride and satisfaction and joy.

And that’s the Final Four. I can’t wait.

(Editor’s Note – Here is what I wrote about Aldrich on the night oh his coming-out party against North Carolina)

*****

SAN ANTONIO | Once upon a time, Cole Aldrich was an afterthought, the fourth big man off the bench — just another big body at Kansas’ coach Bill Self’s disposal.

On Saturday night against North Carolina, Aldrich etched his name onto the list of greatest relief performances in Kansas basketball history.

Kansas’ freshman center scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds off the bench in Kansas’ 84-66 victory against North Carolina, including one board which Aldrich snatched from the clutches of North Carolina All-American Tyler Hansbrough.

“I wasn’t gonna let go,” Aldrich said.

Aldrich’s supporting performance may go down in Kansas lore if the Jayhawks follow up their Saturday night victory with a victory and a national title on Monday.

And oddly enough, Self saw it coming.

Earlier this week Self corrected a reporter who had asked how important Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun and Darrell Arthur would be in Kansas’ attempt to contain North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough. Don’t forget about Cole, Self reminded.

Self’s prophecy came true.

“He may have won the game for us tonight as much as anybody,” Self said.

With seniors Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson both committing two early fouls, Bill Self faced a coaching calamity. Send Cole Aldrich, who averaged 8.1 minutes per game during the regular season, on to the floor to guard Hansbrough, the Tar Heels leading scorer and the AP National Player of the Year.

No sweat.

Aldrich responded with 13 first half minutes played, six points during Kansas’ fun-n-gun first half, and one rebound that Aldrich couldn’t help by smile about.

With 10 minutes left in the first half, and Kansas leading 31-10, Aldrich sprung from floor and ripped the ball away from a bewildered Hansbrough.

“Tyler usually outworks someone, but tonight, he got outworked,” Rush said.

Aldrich, along with help from Kaun, Jackson and Arthur held Hansbrough to 17 point and nine rebounds, a shade below his usual averages of 23.7 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.

“I don’t think he was quite used to four guys that can hold their own,” Aldrich said.

The Kansas frontcourt also controlled the glass, shouldering a 42-33 rebound advantage against their frontcourt foes from North Carolina.

“We knew we had to keep them off the glass to win the game,” Aldrich said.

Aldrich’s 6-foot-10 frame stood tall in Kansas’ victorious locker room, searching for words to describe his nation-wide coming-out party.

Aldrich finally settled on calling it,”…a blast.”

Kansas junior Matt Kleinnmann, sitting 35 feet to Aldrich’s left, had his own take on Aldrich’s first Final Four performance.

“He played like a man tonight,” Kleinnmann said.

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The Power of Senior Day

His lips began to quiver first.

He slowly swayed back and forth, rubbing his hand on his shorts, hopelessly trying to hold it in.

And then it happened… the first tear rolled down Russell Robinson’s cheek.

He stood on the floor at Allen Fieldhouse — in the middle of it all — surrounded by 16,300 cheering fans, flanked by his parents, and united with his four fellow seniors standing just inches away.

Darnell Jackson was standing behind him, a player who had emerged from the ashes of family tragedy — His mother had survived a horrific car crash that claimed the life of his grandmother, his estranged father had been murdered, and his uncle had been beaten to death with a hammer.

Sasha Kaun was behind him, too, a player who also knew the pain of death all to well — his father had been murdered when Kaun was a young boy growing up in Russia, and years later, Kaun would leave his homeland to find a better life.

Jeremy Case was there too, so was Rodrick Stewart, players with stories of their own.

And for Robinson, the emotions were too much.

It was March 3, 2008 — Senior Day at Allen Fieldhouse —and Robinson felt it all.

The joy of four years of basketball at Kansas. The sadness of playing his last game at Allen Fieldhouse. The lingering sorrow of those first-round losses.

Of course, none of those feelings could compare to this — none of those feelings had driven him to tears. He wasn’t ready for it. Who could be?

“It hit me,” Robinson would say. “It hit me that it was my last game. It was the last time I’ll be out there, in front of the fans…”

*****

They always start with the tears. That’s what people remember. Tonight — Wednesday, March 3, 2010 — is Senior Day at Allen Fieldhouse.

Tonight is Sherron Collins’ night. Of course, he is the only senior on this year’s Kansas team, and he is one month away from concluding one of the most illustrious careers in the annals of KU basketball history.

Glance at the numbers and you will see what we all see — one national title, four Big 12 titles, the most wins by a player in Kansas history.

Yep, Collins will soon belong to history.

And tonight, after No. 2 Kansas plays No. 5 Kansas State in the biggest regular-season Sunflower Showdown in 52 years, Sherron Collins will step out on the floor at the Fieldhouse and attempt to sum up the emotions from his four-year career in a 5-minute speech.

And everybody wants to know: Hey Sherron, will you cry?

“I wish I could run from it, but I can’t,” Collins said on Tuesday. “I wish I had more time to play here.”

*****

There are so many stories about Senior Day. So many little moments — some forgotten, some revered, some only remembered by the people that were there.

Rick Reilly once wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated about the greatest moments in sports. Of course, he wrote about Senior Day at Allen Fieldhouse, when KU seniors are showered with love and flowers and tears.

If you’re not from Kansas, or if you didn’t attend KU, you probably don’t understand it. And I’m not sure you can understand. And that’s OK.

For four years, Kansas fans invite each successive class of KU players into their lives. They watch them on television. They travel to faraway cities on the coasts to watch them play. And they buy their Kansas jerseys to give to their kids.

They learn about the obstacles and challenges — and sometimes tragedies — each player has had to overcome. They are obsessively protective, defending their players against critics like a mother protecting her young. And lastly… and I think this might get to the heart of the love affair between KU players and fans more than anything else… KU fans call the players by their first names.

KU fans don’t say: Collins had a great game against Kansas State. They say: Sherron had a great game.

They don’t say: Aldrich was a man inside. They say: Cole was a man inside.

From Danny to Rex to Jacque to Nick and Kirk to Wayne to Russell to Sherron.

This is how it’s always been. And this is how it will always be.

Of course, the Kansas players receive adulation and rock-star status — but the fans receive something more.

Kansas winters are brutal — they can arrive in November and last until March — and they are often unforgiving.

The one saving grace is the old Fieldhouse on Naismith Drive in Lawrence, Kan.

The greatest college basketball program in the country arrives every October for Late Night… and on that night, the latest installment of the KU program shows up to shepherd us through the cold and wind and snow.

*****

The stories are passed down, generation to generation, a never-ending cycle of tradition and history and basketball.

And the stories always come back to Senior Day.

We hear about the day that Jacque Vaughn, Jerod Haase, Scot Pollard and B.J. Williams took their final bows.

They told us there’d never be another class like that — Vaughn the poet, Haase the human floorburn, Pollard the eccentric, and Williams the, well, forgotten big guy off the bench.

But then, six years later, we said goodbye to Hinrich and Collison, the most beloved duo in Kansas history, two sons of basketball coaches, two kids born to play — and two stars who helped deliver Roy Williams from the ignominy of three straight second-round flops.

And we heard that we’d never see another day like that.

They said players like Nick and Kirk just don’t stay four years anymore.

But then it’s two years later, and here comes Wayne Simien, Aaron Miles, Keith Langford and Michael Lee. They exited KU as one of the winningest classes in history — and perhaps the classiest winners.

They graduated on time, said the right things, and played the game the right way. They were Jayhawks.

And Simien, a kid who had grown up down the road in Leavenworth, a kid who had been coming to Allen Fieldhouse for practically his entire life, gave perhaps the greatest Senior Day speech in history*.

*It definitely was the longest anyway.

And again, we were told that we’d never see a class like them.

*****

We all have our own Senior Day stories. But this one is mine.

Minutes after Russell Robinson broke down on that Senior Day in 2008, the game had to start.

Kansas was playing Texas Tech that day. And KU started hot.*

*The Jayhawks also stayed hot. The ended up winning 109-51. And afterward, Texas Tech coach Pat Knight said he felt like he had been thrown into a dogfight lion’s den with a meat necklace on.

By chance, I ended up sitting directly across from the KU family section. And I continually found myself glancing over at the Robinson family.

They had made the trip from New York City. And unlike some of the families of KU players, Russell’s parents had rarely seen Russ play in person. I kept looking at the smile on the face of Russell’s father, but I also became distracted by a mysterious young kid sitting next to Russell’s parents.

He was no doubt a friend from New York who had never seen Russell play at Allen Fieldhouse. And to be honest, he didn’t look like much of a basketball player himself. He was short and skinny, and I assumed he must have been a cousin, or a friend from high school, or something like that.

You probably know that Russell Robinson had one of the greatest games of his career that night against Texas Tech. He made all five of his shots, including three-of-three shooting from the three-point line, and he finished with 15 points.

But I’ll never forget the reaction of that young, mysterious kid from New York. Each time Russell drained a three, the mysterious kid would stand up, put his arms in the air, close his eyes, and let out a scream toward the ceiling. It was almost as if, in that moment, this young kid from New York was being saved.

Of course, I have no idea what was going on in his head. But a part of me likes to believe he was. That’s the power of Senior Day.

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