Aldrich enjoying the journey

? An estimated 8,200 students shook off another Friday night in Aggieville and showed up for the Saturday morning taping of ESPN’s Game Day. All the big names — Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas and Digger Phelps — came to town for it. Televisions across the nation tuned in, making dollars mount. High rollers lined the courtside seats.

Moments after what could stand up as the best game of the 2009-2010 college basketball season, Cole Aldrich stood in the tunnel between the court and the locker room and talked about it. Listening to him, hearing the boyish enthusiasm in his voice, it became clear that on nights like this, college basketball is not at all about money. Instead, it’s about the only people who don’t get paid, the student-athletes who play the games and the students who generate the spirit.

The rest of us amount to fortunate voyeurs.

Aldrich helped Kansas defeat rival Kansas State, 81-79, in overtime Saturday night at Bramlage Coliseum, now known as the Octagon of Doom. He pitched in with 18 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots, and he marveled at how his pal Sherron Collins yet again delivered a huge shot in the clutch.

“It was one of those games that you’re going to get done playing basketball, and you’re going to look back and say I loved playing in that game,” said Aldrich, who will make millions of dollars playing the game, but plays it without thinking about that. “It was one of the most fun games I ever played.”

The suspense pretty much ended when Collins, all 5-foot-11 of him, took a daring drive into the land of giants and tossed in a shot high off the glass. As always, when a great closer such as Collins finishes off a hard-to-kill team, plenty of others helped to make it possible, Aldrich among them.

“Coach said walking back to the locker room, ‘The big fella’s back.’ I’m playing my heart out and having a lot of fun,” Aldrich said.

So are Marcus Morris, who continued his productive ways, and Brady Morningstar, who never has played better than he played Saturday. He uses such active hands in such smart ways and shoots so efficiently (five field-goal attempts, 14 points). Though he doesn’t look the part, he’s a big reason Kansas will sit atop college basketball when the Associated Press poll is released Monday afternoon.

“You ask the older guys on this team, and we’ll tell you we really don’t care,” Aldrich said of moving back into the No. 1 spot. “You tell us we’re No. 1 in April, and we’ll get excited. Right now, it’s just a number and we’ve got to prepare for a good Colorado game.”

That attitude shows this team is mature enough not to get too high on itself. The players’ attention is trained on improving. At the same time, they know the significance of what they accomplished Saturday night.

“It’s probably going to be the most hostile crowd we played in all year,” Aldrich said. “I love it. I love it. They were yelling all sorts of things, and they really helped their team out. It was just a big sea of purple. It was fun.”

Beautiful. Isn’t that huge part of what college is supposed to be all about? Let others stress over the outcome. Aldrich is going to enjoy every minute of a journey he’ll remember forever.