He became a gym rat. When his teammates arrived for practice, Aldridge was usually already dressed and working out. He watched game film during his lunch period. After practice he would hustle to his part-time job at a nearby shoe store. When his shift was over, he would often call Thornton and ask him to reopen the gym for a late-night workout. One night a heavy storm knocked out the power in the building. Undaunted, Aldridge opened the doors so that there was enough moonlight to see the rim.
Basketball was fun. The politics that come with it were not. As Aldridge's game matured, AAU coaches tried to get in his ear. They bad-mouthed Seagoville and tried to persuade Georgia to let LaMarcus transfer to another school, where, with Allen out of the way, they would be able to exert more control. One coach nearly had her convinced, until LaMarcus said he would quit playing if he had to play anywhere else. "It was an old-fashioned way of pimping him," says Allen.
Of course, Seagoville wasn't easy either. Aldridge was big news in Texas, a fact that irritated some of his teammates. During his senior year a classroom wallpapered with newspaper clips of Aldridge's biggest moments was vandalized. In the state quarterfinal game, Aldridge played despite having a stress fracture in his back. In the first half he dominated. Down the stretch his teammates froze him out, as the Dragons lost by one point. "Some of those players were so jealous of him, they would rather lose than see him play well," says Allen. "That's something that I will never forget."
High school jaded Aldridge. Now he keeps his circle of friends tight and requires newcomers to prove they are trustworthy before he lets them in. In Portland he is friendly with his teammates but close to none of them. Most Blazers didn't know his mother was sick until well into the season. "I just don't trust a lot of people," says the 25-year-old Aldridge. "My mom says that once I trust or love someone, I give them everything I've got. But that takes time."
my weaknesses? Aldridge asked himself that question last spring. He was watching the playoffs at home in Dallas when ESPN flashed a scouting report on Kevin Garnett that detailed how opponents could stop the Celtics' big man. It made Aldridge ponder his own shortcomings. Aldridge had developed into a capable scorer, but too often he was pushed around in the post or jammed on the perimeter. Power moves ended in fadeaways or runners. So he made some calls and was eventually referred to Kevin Kordish, a trainer at a gym in nearby Southlake. Kordish usually trains football players. Aldridge told him he wanted to look like one.
Under Kordish, Aldridge built muscle. Hang cleans. Leg presses. Box jumps with a weighted vest. The two worked out four days a week for two months. By the end Aldridge had packed on six pounds of muscle to weigh in at 246, and he dropped his body fat from 12.9% to 10.7%. To test his new frame, Aldridge called Blazers assistant Bill Bayno and asked him to come to Texas. During the season Bayno would regularly whack Aldridge with thick football pads during post drills to get him used to playing through contact. Bayno had been able to regularly disrupt Aldridge as he made a move or forced him to pick up his dribble. Now Aldridge was powering right through Bayno. "He gained strength without losing any speed," says the 48-year-old coach. "I used to wear him out with that drill. Now he's wearing me out."
In past seasons Aldridge floated in and out of the paint; now he sets up shop there. According to hoopdata.com, Aldridge was attempting a career-high 6.5 shots per game at the rim, up from 3.9 last season. As a result, he was averaging 2.1 more free throw attempts. "He's trying to get what he wants rather than what the defense gives him," says Rockets coach Rick Adelman. "He's really imposing his will on people."
Georgia finished chemotherapy last month, and though she won't have any definitive answers until after her radiation treatment, her prognosis is good. Aldridge had hoped she could celebrate the end of chemo by watching him play in the All-Star Game. Instead he booked a suite at the W hotel in Austin, where he treated Georgia to a weekend of massages, room service and lavish dinners.
On the court things continue to look up as well. McMillan calls Aldridge a late bloomer. He evokes names such as Karl Malone and Dirk Nowitzki when discussing Aldridge and eagerly talks about how good Aldridge will be when he deciphers the steady stream of double teams he now finds himself facing. The two frequently exchange late-night calls and texts, with McMillan reminding Aldridge to scrutinize the way Garnett and Kobe Bryant play a two-way game. McMillan encourages Aldridge to keep challenging his teammates and assert himself in the locker room. Be a leader, the coach says. Someone the guys can count on.
As plenty of people can attest, Aldridge is capable of that.