Cole Aldrich realizes he's more important to Kansas University's basketball team today, than, say, three weeks ago.
"I think so," Aldrich, KU's 6-foot-11, 250-pound incoming freshman from Bloomington, Minn., said Saturday, asked if he'd have to arrive at KU as an impact player rather than a role player in the wake of decisions by Brandon Rush and Julian Wright to enter the NBA Draft.
Those departing sophomores combined for 25.8 points a game last season.
"Everybody needs to step up, though, not just me. We all need to push each other this summer on the court and in the weight room," added the McDonald's All-American, who averaged 22.9 points and 17.6 rebounds as a senior at Jefferson High.
"If you look at the team right now, we've got a lot of good players - Sherron (Collins), Mario (Chalmers), Russell (Robinson), a lot of good big guys. I'm coming in. Tyrel (Reed) is coming in. We've got guys who can step up and make things happen."
Aldrich - who will be here for summer school in early June - took the news of Rush's applying for the draft in stride.
"It's a nice thing, but kind of a hurt," Aldrich said. "With Brandon being the great player he is, everybody wants to see him stay around. But if you get the opportunity to play at the next level, if it's your dream, you can't hold anybody back from going after their dream."
Aldrich wasn't as surprised with Rush's decision as Wright's, which came April 9.
"I know Julian loved college. He loved Lawrence. He just thought since he wanted to play in the league, this would be the best year to do that," Aldrich said.
Aldrich, who admits he has pro aspirations, says he will not arrive in Lawrence counting the days until he leaves.
"I'll stay four years if I have to. Whatever ... I'll stay eight if I have to. I love the fact of college," he said. "Just the crowd, the atmosphere of the games."
He acknowledged there was a lot of talk about the NBA from fellow blue-chippers at the recent McDonald's All-America game.
"A lot of guys want to get to that level," Aldrich said. "I was talking to my girlfriend's stepdad one day. As a society people look at us ... if you don't make it in the NBA, you are an unsuccessful player. Look at Europe. There are good players there. You are making good six figures, tax free. It's getting a lot harder to make it to the NBA. I mean, you have to be an elite player."
¢ The day after: KU coach Bill Self was out recruiting Saturday in Texas - a day after he discussed with the media Rush's decision to turn pro.
Rush left town Friday night and has not spoken with KU's coach since 7:30 p.m. Thursday, when he told Self he would be entering the draft.
"Even if I was (upset at Rush), it's over," Self said. "There's nobody upset with his decision, nobody. I'm just very disappointed in the way he handled it. I told him, the way he handles this will affect a great deal the way you are thought of by people who have treated you well (the media) the last two years. I'm disappointed he didn't follow his plan, which was to announce it Friday."
As far as Rush's schedule ...
"He will be back in class (this week). He did well first semester. I'm sure he will again. His stance is not to have an agent, which is to his benefit. I am not holding out any hope (of his return). I just want him to do what is best for him. I am hoping this is what's best for him."