Campus Corner

Former KU center Aldrich balances NBA trades with graduation

LAWRENCE — On his last road trip of the season, Cole Aldrich found himself sitting next to teammate Jimmer Fredette on the Sacramento Kings’ charter jet. They were somewhere in the skies, between San Antonio and Houston, and Aldrich pulled out his latest assignment.

No, this was not an NBA playbook. And Aldrich was not brushing up on how to guard Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol or some other Western Conference center. This was college coursework, and Aldrich, a former All-Big 12 center at Kansas, was trying to make good on a lifelong goal.

“I don’t know how you’re doing it,” Aldrich recalls Fredette saying. “It’s one of those things I kind of just wanna be done with. And not have to worry about doing homework again.”

If all goes to plan, Aldrich will reach that goal later this month, when he graduates from Kansas with a degree in Communications. Three years after he left school early for the NBA Draft, Aldrich will dress up in a cap and gown and take the traditional walk down the hill with the KU student body.

“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do,” says Aldrich, who finished his degree by taking nine credits this past semester through online classes. “And (it’s) something that I really can be proud of the rest of my life.”

The graduation should be the beginning of a busy summer for Aldrich, who will marry his longtime girlfriend and fiancé Britt Claflin in July. He’ll also have to worry about his day job. After playing sparingly during his first three seasons in the NBA, Aldrich is now an unrestricted free agent and will be looking for another NBA opportunity.

Selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the 11th pick in the 2010 draft, Aldrich played just more than seven minutes per game in his first two seasons before being included in the deal that sent James Harden to Houston. The opportunity for playing time Houston was limited as well, and Aldrich was sent to Sacramento in a midseason deal that also included former KU forward Thomas Robinson moving from Sacramento to Houston.

“When you don’t get that opportunity,” Aldrich says, “people maybe don’t see what you can do all the time.”

Aldrich finished off the season with back-to-back double-doubles in the Kings’ final three games, and he’s hopeful he can find the right opportunity in free agency this summer.

"The fun thing is," Aldrich says. "There’s some opportunities some place, and other opportunities other places. And that’s a good thing for me being an unrestricted free agent. You really get exposed and see where those opportunities are for me to get out there and play."