For Memphis Grizzlies rookie Santi Aldama, there was no place he would’ve rather built his basketball career than Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore.
Now with the Memphis Grizzlies, the 6-foot-11, 215-pound power forward from Las Palmas, Spain, is looking to show his skills in the NBA after being selected in the first round of the 2021 draft by the Utah Jazz and subsequently being traded to Memphis.
Aldama acknowledges just how much Loyola did to prepare him for the next level, even after having represented his home country in international play since he was a teenager.
“Just with the staff and all the players, the work we put in no matter what the circumstance was, even when we were in quarantine we were staying in touch and everything, I think that’s something I take away,” Aldama said on Glenn Clark Radio Oct. 22. “And also the friendships and relationships I have from there. It’s exciting to start my new life [in Memphis], but sometimes I look back and I’m like, ‘I miss those guys.'”
“I’m really, really blessed to have had the opportunity to be there,” he added.
Aldama’s influence on the Loyola basketball program is easy to see. He was just the fourth Patriot League player to ever be selected in the NBA Draft and the first to go in the first round since the Portland Trail Blazers selected CJ McCollum 10th overall in 2013 after his stellar career at Lehigh.
Although a knee injury hampered Aldama’s first season at Loyola, his second season produced a trip to the Patriot League championship game as the Greyhounds teetered on an NCAA Tournament bid. Loyola fell to Colgate and failed to make the Big Dance, but Aldama was named first-team All-Patriot League and was one of two players in Division I basketball to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.
All told, Aldama averaged 21.2 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while he shot 51 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from three.
“[I] had two kind of weird seasons, where the first one I played half of the season because of my injury and the second one COVID year,” Aldama said. “Kind of a unique experience for sure, but I think it’s great I got to live that. And of course, now in the NBA, one of my many dreams came true and I think this is just the beginning of something special.”
Transitioning to professional basketball in the U.S. is another exciting step for Aldama, who made his NBA regular-season debut Oct. 27 with a seven-point performance against the Portland Trail Blazers. He also made an appearance against the Miami Heat Oct. 30 as he begins to see more time on the court as the season moves along.
“It’s a dream come true, I’ve been working for that. It was my first game with fans in a long, long time. So, you know, that thing goes through your body and you’re pumped and you’re excited,” Aldama said of his first appearance with an NBA team during the preseason. “It’s like, you’re there but you want more and more. The feeling was great, especially after such a long time and of course in the NBA, which is my lifelong dream.”
The move to the NBA means even more for Aldama given his heritage. He is now one of just six Spanish players on NBA rosters, joining big names like Clippers center Serge Ibaka and Cavaliers guard Ricky Rubio.
“I wouldn’t say [I’m] carrying the weight of the entire country, but yeah for sure I feel the support of people, I get messages every day, you know, from people letting me know they support me,” Aldama said. “I think it’s great because I love Spain. … I think seeing people support me is great.”
For more from Aldama, listen to the full interview here:
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