Back To Texas: LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge is the pride of Seagoville, Texas, where he often kept the Dallas suburb’s high school gym open until midnight. He’d clock out of work at a shoe store to race over to get in a few hundred late-night jump shots.

He’s the pride of Austin, Texas, where he led the Texas Longhorns to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight. When he suffered a hip injury in his freshman season, he spent eight weeks working on his shot while sitting in a chair.

Now, Aldridge is the pride of San Antonio, Texas.

After nine seasons in Portland, Aldridge signed with the Spurs and is back in Texas.

“To be back in this state means a lot,” Aldridge said. “It’s my home. It means being close to my family and having my UT fans back behind me.”

Aldridge wore a No. 12 Spurs jersey for the first time on Friday as he posed for photos and met with media. He said his decision to return to Texas came down to family.

Both being close to his family in Texas and the family he saw in his new team.

“The Spurs really are a family,” he said. “They have a bunch of good guys that want to win, and the way they play is so unselfish. I’m looking forward to being involved in it. I feel that teams with players who are very close end up winning.”

A 6-foot-11, 260-pound forward, Aldridge averaged 23.4 points and 10.2 rebounds last season in Portland. He is a four-time All-Star and one of two players to rank in the Top 10 in scoring for each of the last four seasons. The other player is LeBron James.

“I’m excited to be part of this great organization, a part of the winning tradition,” Aldridge said. “I’m going to try to make history here.”

Aldridge’s journey to the NBA began with one long practice as a freshman at Seagoville High School, just 292 miles away from the AT&T Center.

His high school coach, Robert Allen, didn’t think Aldridge was putting in his full effort in his first few practices. So Allen took him to the school track.

“I ran him and ran him for 8.8 miles,” Allen said. “I told him we would do this every day he had a lazy practice, but to be honest, I felt bad about it. I thought he was going to transfer.”

The next morning, Aldridge was the first one at the gym.

Allen said he never saw anyone work harder than Aldridge after that. He would already be practicing in the morning before most players arrived, watch film at lunch, and after work, he would call Seagoville assistant Wendell Thornton to open the gym back up for a late-night workout.

Allen remembers one practice when a storm came through and knocked out the power. Aldridge opened all the doors so there was just enough light for him to keep practicing.

Aldridge averaged 28.9 points and 13.4 rebounds for his senior year and was named a McDonald’s All-American. His best game came in the state quarterfinals, scoring 39 points on 16 of 18 shooting, all while playing with a back injury.

But Aldridge rarely mentions the game because Seagoville lost in overtime.

“Nobody wants to win more than LaMarcus,” Allen said. “I’ve never seen a guy work so hard, and the way he looked when he walked off that floor, I said to myself that I don’t ever want to experience anything like that again. It just about killed me.”

Aldridge was one of the top-ranked recruits in the country, but chose to stay in Texas.

He stayed at UT for two years, as his freshman season was cut short because of a hip injury. Instead of resting while the injury healed, Aldridge and coach Rick Barnes had a plan. They had been watching film of fadeaway shots by two NBA big men, Rasheed Wallace and Tim Duncan, and were looking for a way for Aldridge to adopt a high-release jump shot. Aldridge spent two months shooting from a chair, and gradually backing up his shots to the 3-point line.

“He was so diligent about it,” said Barnes, who is now the head coach at the University of Tennessee. “He sat there for hours and hours shooting until he could hit everything from a chair.”

As a sophomore, Aldridge averaged 15.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

Texas advanced to the 2006 Elite Eight, but lost in overtime to Louisiana State for a trip to the Final Four.

“To this day I’ve never coached a player that was more upset about losing a game than LaMarcus was,” Barnes said. “He’s so unselfish. He’s a worker who has earned everything he’s gotten, and all he wants to do is win.”

After Texas, it was on to the Pacific Northwest. But his home state never left his heart.

Aldridge was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 Draft, and put a Texas hat on Commissioner David Stern’s head after he walked up on stage.

Portland traded for Aldridge on draft night, and in nine seasons he became the Trail Blazers’ all-time leader in rebounds (5,434) and second in points (12,562).

An All-Star the past for the past four seasons, he said the decision to leave Portland was tough because he’s “loved the fans there for all nine years.”

Through a frenzied free agency, Aldridge said meeting with Spurs general manager R.C. Buford, coach Gregg Popovich and Spurs players sold him on the idea of joining the Spurs.

“He’s proud of his lineage in Texas and wanted to at least explore an opportunity to come back home,” Buford said. “We wanted to present an environment he was interested in joining. That doesn’t happen without Pop, Tim, Tony, Manu, Kawhi and Danny Green, though.”

Aldridge will play next to one of his role modes in Tim Duncan, who he called “the best power forward to play the game.” The Spur he’s most excited to play with is a former teammate, Patty Mills.

The pride of Seagoville and Austin is starting a new chapter in South Texas.

“Pop, R.C., all those guys made me feel comfortable,” Aldridge said. “They made me feel like this was home.”