LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -When Kansas' Bill Self hears anyone compare 6-foot-11 Cole Aldrich to Kevin McHale, he tries to laugh it off.
What coach wants such pressure heaped upon a promising sophomore who could be headed for stardom?
But mention McHale to Aldrich himself and little grins quickly billow into appreciative, full-blown smiles. What greater compliment could anyone pay a very tall, exceptionally agile kid from Minnesota who appears headed for stardom?
``It's really flattering,'' Aldrich said. ``Kevin McHale, he's a legend back home. It's really great to be compared to him in small little aspects.''
It's a comparison that is being made increasingly as Aldrich establishes himself as a dominant force in the Big 12 and the No. 15 Jayhawks head into their title showdown on Sunday against No. 11 Missouri.
Like McHale, a seven-time All-Star with the Boston Celtics, Aldrich hails from Minnesota. Both were highly decorated high school stars and honored as Minnesota's Mr. Basketball their senior year.
In addition, they're almost exactly the same height, have exceptionally arms and were blessed with body types that seem tailor-made for their sport.
And, as Self likes to point out, there is one more similarity between his sophomore and the former NBA All-Star and current head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
``They both have funky shots,'' he said with a grin.
Aldrich's ``funky shot'' is unlike that of any player Self has ever coached. When he's not stepping inside for a one-handed dunk, he loves to pull up 12 or 15 feet from the basket, take the ball in both hands and draw it all the way back behind his ears.
In a motion reminiscent of a traveler heaving a heavy carryon into an overhead bin, he draws a bead on the basket and lets it fly.
It may look funky, but he is shooting 60.8 percent in Big 12 games - the best in the conference.
Did someone say 60.8 percent? McHale, while helping the Celtics win three NBA championships, twice shot a league-best 60.4 percent.
``Maybe (McHale's) shot was not as pretty as mine,'' Aldrich said with a laugh.
It's a shooting motion that seemed to come naturally soon after Kathleen Aldrich told her tall preteen that maybe he should give basketball a try.
way.''
Fortunately for the Jayhawks (23-5, 12-1 Big 12), Self decided not to tweak, alter, change or mess with Aldrich's natural shot in any way.
``I haven't said one thing about his shot. It is probably a slower release than maybe what would be the mechanically perfect method of shooting. But it's soft, it's got a high release point and it's hard to block.
``And it's also been very effective.''
Effective enough to make him one of only two Big 12 players averaging a double-double, with 15 points and 10.7 rebounds. In his first season as a full-time starter, he seems to be getting better week by week, culminating in a career-high 20 rebounds in a victory at No. 3 Oklahoma on Monday night.
``I would have never thought this going into this year, but if he continues to progress at the same rate, I think he could be an All-American next year,'' Self said. ``He's a sponge. He tries to absorb everything. And you can chew him, you can ride him and it doesn't bother him at all.
``He has no problem with being corrected. He looks forward to being corrected and trying to get better. He's just a fabulous kid.''
Something else the sophomore star is looking forward to is meeting McHale.
``I aspire every day just to be maybe half the player he was,'' Aldrich said. ``He was unbelievable at times. That would be a great thing to go back home and just sit down and talk to him. He knows the game from so many different angles, it would be really interesting to sit down and talk with him.''
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