Aldridge expected to be among draft's top picks

Updated: April 12, 2006, 9:25 AM ET
Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas sophomore forward LaMarcus Aldridge said Monday night he intends to enter the NBA draft, where he's expected to be among the top picks.

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Among NBA scouts, Aldridge is considered a top-five pick and potentially the No. 1 pick in the draft. He's the most polished big man on offense, excelling with his back to the basket and facing it. He's also an excellent rebounder and shot blocker.

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"When I came to Texas, my main two goals were to get started on earning my degree and to have the opportunity to play in the NBA," Aldridge said. "I've accomplished both of those and the opportunity is there for me right now to begin the next stage of my basketball career."

Aldridge said he has begun the process of hiring an agent. He made his announcement after the team banquet.

Texas coach Rick Barnes, who Aldridge said talked to NBA officials to gauge the player's draft position, gave Aldridge his blessing on the decision.

"We've talked about it a lot," Barnes said. "The real story would have been if he came back."

Aldridge said Barnes talked to NBA officials about how high he might be drafted.

"I have a chance to be drafted in a good spot and be an impact player," Aldridge said. He said he also considered the financial impact on his family and said it is important that he be able to take care of his mother.

"This is my goal, my ultimate goal as a kid, to make it to the NBA," he said.

The 6-foot-10 Aldridge averaged 15 points and 9.2 rebounds for the Longhorns (30-7), who won the regular-season Big 12 title and got within one game of the Final Four before losing in the Atlanta Regional final. The 30 wins set a school record.

Aldridge's announcement wasn't much of a surprise. He had considered entering the draft straight out of Seagoville High School in 2004 before deciding to play at Texas.

His college career has been up and down with flashes of brilliant play and a hip injury that forced him to miss 15 games of his freshman season.

Healthy again for the 2005-06 season, he had 16 double-doubles and a team-high 73 blocks and was named conference defensive player of the year by the Big 12 coaches.

Long and lean, Aldridge has shown flashes of a game that looks ready for the next level. He's also stumbled badly enough at times to doubt it.

In his first three NCAA Tournament games, he averaged 18.3 points and 10.3 rebounds and shot 54 percent from the floor. But he also shot 2-of-14 and finished with four points in a 70-60 loss to LSU when matched up against the Tigers' big and athletic frontcourt of Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Tyrus Thomas.

Aldridge's departure depletes the Texas lineup but doesn't decimate it.

Junior forward P.J. Tucker was the Big 12 player of the year after leading the Longhorns in scoring (16.1) and rebounding (9.5). The Longhorns also expect to return sophomore shooting guard Daniel Gibson and welcome one of the top recruiting classes in the country, including Kevin Durant, a 6-9 wing player who was co-MVP of the McDonald's All-American high school basketball game.

Gibson said he will stay at Texas. Tucker said he also plans to stay for his senior season but is still weighing his options.

Barnes joked Monday night with the banquet crowd about his discussions with Texas officials on a new contract, but wouldn't confirm reports that it includes a $500,000 raise, putting him among the highest-paid coaches in the country.

"I can't talk about it," Barnes said. "I don't think it's official."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press