Cole Aldrich made more than $1 million playing basketball last season and nearly $10 million in his six-year NBA career.
Still, when the former Kansas player returned to Lawrence in early June, he decided there was only one place to stay: at former teammate Tyrel Reed’s house.
Reed wasn’t offering up his king-size bed, either. The 6-foot-11 Aldrich would have to settle for the guest room.
“It might be a little bed,” Aldrich said with a smile, “but it’s a bed.”
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Aldrich is just one example of what has become a tradition in Lawrence. Former KU players, no matter where they go professionally, seem to flock back to their old college town during the summer.
The reasons vary. Aldrich likes to schedule his trip around the Rock Chalk Roundball Classic, a charity event that brings together former KU players to raise money for pediatric cancer patients.
There’s also the desire to see old college buddies, as he’s remained close with Brady Morningstar, Conner Teahan, Chase Buford and Reed.
“We may not see each other every week,” Aldrich said, “but every few months when we do see each other, it’s like nothing changed.”
Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore, who also took part in the Roundball Classic, has other reasons for returning. Not only is he continuing to take college classes — he’s enrolled in one at Barton County Community College this summer — but the 23-year-old also is trying to make up for lost time after departing following his redshirt freshman season.
“I just wanted to experience my whole four years here at Kansas,” McLemore said. “The first two years were amazing. I’m still in that college zone.”
McLemore keeps in touch with KU players like Jamari Traylor, Merv Lindsay and Niko Roberts.
“Some of our teammates in the league have families. You see them at practice or the games, but that’s it,” McLemore said. “You really don’t hang out like you do in college. It’s different. It’s a different lifestyle.”
Earlier this month, fellow NBA players Marcus and Markieff Morris (Detroit and Washington) returned to sell their “FOE” clothing line with Thomas Robinson (Brooklyn) at The Oread Hotel in Lawrence.
Robinson, who became a fan favorite at KU after he persevered following the deaths of his grandparents and mother during his junior season, admits it was difficult to step outside of the KU spotlight when he was taken by Sacramento with the fifth pick in the 2012 draft.
“I didn’t get that attention (in the NBA). I got very attention-needy when I was here, because I had to. I had to take on that, and that’s who I became,” Robinson said. “So when I had to go back to being a different person, I didn’t accept it well.”
Robinson, who has been with five teams in four NBA seasons, says he eventually adjusted. He started seven games and played in 71 for the Nets last season, averaging 4.3 points with 5.1 rebounds.
“It took me the long route, but I always get the long route, so what’s new?” Robinson said with a smile. “I’m good now.”
Also reuniting with the Morris twins and Robinson was Mario Little, who played at KU from 2008-11. After three years in the NBA D-League, Little was a professional in Korea last season.
Like Robinson, Little noticed a difference in lifestyle once he left campus.
“Going from Kansas, where everybody from the first guy to the last guy is being like an NBA guy or a god or whatever, it changes,” Little said. “That’s for everybody, unless you go on and platform and do more amazing things, it’s probably always going to be like a downer.”
Even Aldrich experienced some of that after getting drafted by Oklahoma City with the 11th pick in 2010, going from a star at KU to a role player on the same team as emerging NBA stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Aldrich joked it was much easier to go to dinner without getting recognized.
“You kind of have to prove yourself again,” Aldrich said. “You go from college, you can be the guy. But when you go to the NBA, you’re one of 15 guys potentially on a team. There’s just so much talent.”
Little describes professional basketball as the “fast life.” He says Lawrence is a setting where former players can relax while also getting their offseason work in.
“You get to relive the innocence part of basketball,” Little said. “It’s always good to come back.”