Sherron Collins will drive to the basket for layups and shoot threes abound, while Cole Aldrich will have his way and dominate the opposition with thunderous dunks and and NBA-ready game.
Coming into the 2009-10 season, that was what everyone expected of the Kansas Jayhawks. After all, Collins was coming off a junior season where he found himself a Consensus Second Team All-American and Aldrich had made the decision to put off the NBA, where he was sure to be a lottery pick, for one more year. The plan was to keep intact one of the best guard-center combos in the nation from a team that surprised many and won the Big 12 regular season title (is a 5th straight conference title really a surprise?) and came within a couple minutes of the Elite Eight.
Well, here we are a year later and Cole is still likely considered a fringe lottery pick. Although while he may be a better player and a more known commodity this year, the 2010 NBA Draft is far deeper than the 2009 version, which could cause the big Minnesotan to slip. So, the question begs to be asked: was Cole's decision to come back for his junior year really the right one?
On the surface, most outsiders that don't follow the program closely would respond overwhelmingly that indeed it was. Cole was often featured during 30 second highlights on SportsCenter and is commonly brought up in discussions about the most impactful players in the country. I think most fans of teams that played against Cole and the Jayhawks would agree, too. I do know that our good friends at Rock M Nation were.
However, when you consider the reasons for returning and passing up NBA riches, maybe you'll think differently. To win a championship and/or improve draft stock would be the key reasons, no? Well, the Jayhawks didn't win a title and Cole didn't improve his standing among other draft prospects either. Yes, Cole loves Kansas, loves being a Jayhawk and is an ultimate ambassador for the university. Seriously, how often does a player with the notoriety of a Cole Aldrich win the Academic All-American of the Year award? Mentally, when you put together a college basketball player and person, you can't do better than Cole.
But, perhaps it would have been better for Cole to leave for the NBA last year. He did give us another exciting season of a defensive spectacular and superioir rebounding, but in looking at it all in hindsight, (which is never fair, but it's all we have to go on) did it really serve more of a purpose than just to provide a good time for the fans? Undoubtedly, Cole enjoyed his one more year at Kansas, but after being plagued by nagging, potentially long-term injuries for a 6'11" human being, it's tough to say whether he made the right decision or not.
Strictly looking at Cole's season from a performance and production standpoint, you can't argue that he was good. Offensively, there are questions he must answer regarding a lack of scoring post moves for NBA scouts. But defensively, never in my lifetime (granted that's not that long) there's never been a human eraser at the level of Cole. His impact was felt so much that I attempted to quantify what he meant to the team from a defensive standpoint. It was done for only one game, but it's pretty safe to say that the numbers would look about the same for most games played.
My biggest personal nitpick with Cole this year was his activeness, or lack thereof, on the offensive end. For someone 6'11", a bit more receiving of the hi-lo entry pass for easy dunks seems an easy fix to that problem. Maybe that's oversimplifying, but when you're that big, you don't have to do much. At times, in my own opinion, having Cole in the game offensively was more of a hindrance to the team than an asset. Players like Sherron and Tyshawn Taylor's games are built around getting to the basket or penetrating for a kick-out to an open perimeter player. With such a stationary figure in the middle, rarely were opposing big men drawn away from the basket to leave the lane open for a guard to get inside. Also, the 14- to 17-foot jumper that he hit with regularity last year was nearly non-existant this year. Not because he couldn't hit it, but because he took so few attempts at it. Maybe it was the gameplan to get away from it (why would you gameplan against something that's effective and works?) or maybe Cole felt the need to prove himself as an interior post player, rather than a step out and shoot kind of big man.
Cole's performance of the season was a 16 point, 14 rebound gem that helped avoid disaster in Boulder on February 3. In that game, Cole made the most of his limited touches in shooting 6-8 from the floor (only getting off 8 shots in an overtime game is a failure on someone's part) and 4-7 from the line, most of which came late in the game to help the Jayhawks tie in regulation before claiming victory in the extra period. He was no less impressive in Kansas' January 25 romping of the Missouri Tigers at home - a game that saw Cole score 12 point and grab 16 rebounds, once again doing so on very limited opportunites to the tune of 4-5 shooting from the field 4-6 from the free throw stripe.
Final 2010 Grade: C+
Only at Kansas could the likely best NBA player on the team be the fourth leading scorer in the final year before he jumps to the draft. Cole's defensive play makes up for a lot of what he lacked offensively, but you can't help but still wish he had been able to contribute a bit in that regard. Either way, after falling in national rankings after his senior year of high school, expectations were somewhat low for Cole, so I can't help but feel that we got everything out of him. And, maybe even then some.
Question for discussion: Much of Cole's offensive "woes" are the result of lacking touches and opportunities to score. In your opinion, can that be more attributed to his teammates not getting him the ball and in dangerous positions, or to Cole for not making himself a better pass receiving option?