Cole Aldrich has a prop available for laughs if he gets a bit too emotional during Saturday’s jersey retirement ceremony speech to be delivered before 16,300 fans at Allen Fieldhouse.
“Should I give my speech without my tooth?” said Aldrich, the former Kansas basketball and now Minnesota Timberwolves center, on Thursday in a teleconference with reporters.
The 29-year-old, eight-year NBA veteran will have his KU jersey No. 45 hung in the south rafters at Allen Fieldhouse rafters at halftime of the KU-West Virginia game, which is set for a 5 p.m. tipoff.
“I think my wife (Britt) would probably not be very happy if I did that,” added the 6-foot-11, 250-pound Bloomington, Minn., native. He has had the smile of a hockey player since his freshman year at KU (2007-08). That’s when his front left tooth was chipped during a game against Kansas State, then was knocked out at practice the week following that game. He has a temporary replacement tooth that can be removed at any time.
“I haven’t gotten it fixed. It’s going to be a process. I think I’ll start here in the next few years,” Aldrich added with a laugh.
Aldrich, a two-time, first-team all-Big 12 pick, 2010 consensus second-team All-American and 2010 Academic All-American of the Year, is definitely taking Saturday’s honor seriously.
“Even when I go back in the summertime I kind of look up and see Nick Collison and Paul Pierce and (Raef) LaFrentz and Jo Jo White … you see all those names (in rafters) and it’s still hard for me to comprehend I’m at that level, too,” Aldrich said, “because I think of those guys as the legends. You’ve got Danny Manning up there. It’s going to be such a special day on Saturday. I will hopefully hold my emotions back.”
He was informed of the honor last October when it was also revealed his former KU teammate, point guard Sherron Collins, would have his jersey No. 4 hung in the rafters at halftime of the Oklahoma game on Monday night.
“It was a surprise,” said Aldrich, who ranks No. 52 with 1,038 career points at KU, No. 9 with 860 rebounds and No. 3 with 253 blocked shots, those numbers compiled in just three seasons.
“It’s a huge honor. It’s kind of hard to put into words. You work so hard. All the people around you that have supported you (and) to be able to have that. It’s not about me, it’s about people who helped me get there.”
Collins is at or near the top of that list.
“Sherron and I kind of always were thinking (of themselves) like Hinrich and Collison,” Aldrich said of the KU guard/center duo of Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison, who both have had their jerseys hung in Allen Fieldhouse. “My sophomore year, everybody had left (after winning 2008 NCAA title) and it was pretty much Sherron and I.
“We relied on each other so much and became really close because everybody thought the year after we won it we might be like Florida that didn’t make the tournament after they won back-to-back national championships. Fighting with him through all those tough games (in 2008-09 and 2009-10) … the ups and downs. To try to win another conference title really stuck with us. The fact we were able to accomplish that was incredible.
“To spend the weekend having my jersey and his jersey (hung) and to have the 10-year anniversary (of 2008 title), it’s going to be so much fun.”
Collins and Aldrich will take part in KU’s 2008 NCAA title reunion this weekend along with several other players from that squad. Self said at this time it appears Russell Robinson and Darnell Jackson, who are playing overseas, will not be able to attend. Also, Self said Mario Chalmers (Memphis Grizzlies) will be out of the country while on NBA All-Star break. He said Brandon Rush may have a conflict and may not be on hand.
“It seems like no better time,” Collins said Thursday, when asked about Aldrich’s jersey being hung Saturday and his two days later. “The bond me and Cole share … I mean me and Cole would battle. A lot of days we were so tired, but we knew we couldn’t slack. We knew we had to play well together for us to win. Most of the time we did that.”
Collins recalled Aldrich’s triple-double in a 60-43 win over Dayton — 13 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocks in the 2009 NCAA Tournament second round in Minneapolis — as perhaps Aldrich’s finest game. Aldrich had mentioned the importance of an 84-66 Final Four semifinal victory over North Carolina his freshman year in which he had eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks going against senior Tyler Hansbrough.
“We knew obviously he was the best player in the country,” Aldrich said of Hansbrough. “I played 17 minutes that game. Sasha (Kaun) gets in foul trouble. Darnell gets in foul trouble. I was just kind of next in line. I can imagine looking back at it now; the coaches were probably thinking, ‘I don’t quite know if we’re going to get out of it, but we just need to get through the half.’ It turned out great. It’s one of those games I’ll never forget.”
Of that particular game, which preceded the national title win over Memphis, Self said: “Cole obviously did a great job and was probably as good a big man as there was in the game that day.
“I think he had like eight points and seven rebounds, something like that. He was great. He had his coming out party in the NCAA Tournament, basically at the Final Four.
“From that point, I don’t know that we’ve ever had anybody improve more over a span of two years. He goes from that point, happy to get in a game, to being a second-team All-American in less than 12 months. He had an unbelievable run here his sophomore and junior year. Of course, he was a defensive presence, as well. He did it right on and off the court, being an academic All-American and everything. Him getting his honor on Saturday, and Sherron getting it on Monday … those are two guys that I will take a ton of pride in this because I know how much they both love this place, I know how much this place changed them.”
Collins, who said he’s in the process of getting in shape in hopes of resuming his basketball career at the age of 30, mentioned he and Aldrich were like “Batman and Robin.”
“Cole won’t like hearing this, but if that’s the case, Sherron was definitely Batman and Cole was a sidekick (laughter). Sherron pretty much ran things here his last couple years,” Self said.
Self, by the way, called Collins, “the best basketball player we’ve recruited since we’ve been here. You talk about a guy that can get his own. He can set anybody up. He thinks the game. His IQ is ridiculous. He’s tougher than anybody. I just thought he was a fabulous, fabulous guard.”