Loyola freshman forward Santi Aldama made his season debut against Navy Feb. 1, showing what made him a highly-regarded prospect out of Spain and giving the struggling Greyhounds a spark in the middle of Patriot League play.
Aldama, whose debut was delayed due to preseason knee surgery, was the MVP of the FIBA U-18 European Championships last summer as Spain won the gold medal. Aldama averaged 18.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks during Spain’s seven-game run in the tournament.
The talent Aldama showcased in the European Championships was on display during Loyola’s 79-73 win against Navy. The 6-foot-11, 215-pound Aldama scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, scoring from all three levels (including one 3-pointer) in 17 minutes and flashing the skill set that’ll continue to make him a tough matchup for opposing teams. He also dished out three assists, secured a rebound and blocked a shot.
“It feels great,” said Aldama, a native of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain. “It’s really important for me. I just want to play basketball. Just to be able to help my teammates after all this time, it’s great.”
Aldama gave Loyola lift when it needed just that. The Greyhounds snapped an eight-game losing streak with the win against Navy, improving to 10-13 overall and 2-8 in the Patriot League. Loyola also hasn’t had freshman guard Cam Spencer (9.9 points, 3.5 assists per game) for the past nine games, meaning the Greyhounds have been without a key secondary scorer for all but one conference game.
Who Loyola has had is senior guard Andrew Kostecka, a Germantown, Md., native who has been one of the best players in the Patriot League the past two seasons. Kostecka, who’s averaging 21.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, is excited about what Aldama provided in his first taste of college ball.
“He helps us a lot as a team,” Kostecka said. “Adding in better pieces definitely helps our team overall. He came out, he played really hard today even though he only played limited minutes. He loves to be out there, he loves playing with us. It was really good to see him out there for the first time.”
Aldama’s last game prior to the matchup against Navy was Spain’s 57-53 victory against Greece Aug. 4. He scored 23 points on 7-of-16 shooting, grabbed four rebounds and dished out two assists. Loyola head coach Tavaras Hardy, who was in attendance for Aldama’s performance that day, said he saw the same player during Loyola’s Jan. 31 practice following months of rehab.
“We played a 10-minute scrimmage, and I put him on the second team against our starters. His team won, 30-15. He had like 17 or 18 points,” Hardy said. “I was just happy to see that that experience in practice translated into the game.
“Now, in the same breath, his second half yesterday he struggled a little bit and same with tonight, just getting his wind back and all that type of stuff. My assistant coaches were great at keeping me honest. I wanted to play him 40 minutes, but the trainers and my assistant coaches held me in check.”
Loyola has just eight games left but there was never any inclination to redshirt Almada, according to Hardy.
“That was never in doubt,” Hardy said. “We had a pretty good timeline from our medical staff. To be honest, he’s not the type of person that we consider having here for five years. And so it was when he was ready to go, we’d be ready to play him. But there was never a desire from us to rush him back. That’s not a part of what we were. We were just playing it the way it was supposed to be played.”
NOTES: Hardy said there is no timetable for Spencer’s return but “he’s creeping back, though.” … Loyola sophomore guard Jaylin Andrews (Boys’ Latin) had 16 points against Navy, his fourth game with double-digit points in the Greyhounds’ past five. … The Mids fell to 12-9 overall and 6-4 in the Patriot League. They were led by junior guard Cam Davis (25 points) and senior center Evan Wieck (21 points).
Photo Credit: Jay Mendez