A 6-foot-9 forward who could dribble, pass and shoot, NBA legend Larry Bird helped redefine his position with his diverse skills.
Stretch fours - power forwards who can stretch defenses with their ball handling and shooting - have become more common since Bird retired in 1992 from the Boston Celtics. And at Davidson, 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward Peyton Aldridge fits the mold.
Despite the growing number of versatile forwards, La Salle coach John Giannini didn’t hesitate to call Aldridge “the Larry Bird of the Atlantic 10” after Aldridge tallied 33 points and nine rebounds against the Explorers on Jan. 19.
“There’s always differences at different levels, and the A-10 is not the NBA,” said Giannini on Monday. “But at our level, he’s like a Larry Bird. He posts, he shoots and this guy even handles the ball a little bit more than a guy like Bird used to using a pick-and-roll.
“I just can’t say enough good things about him offensively.”
Neither can other opposing coaches. Through Monday, Aldridge, a junior, ranked 29th nationally with 20.4 points per game and was averaging a team-best 7.5 rebounds. He also paced the Wildcats in 3-point percentage at 41.5.
But first, Aldridge’s multi-faceted game underwent years of development.
Cones dot the driveway of Aldridge’s Leavittsburg, Ohio home. Almost every day, Aldridge’s parents, Rick and Lisa, watch him run through dribbling drills.
To dribble with his left hand as well as he does with his right is what Peyton strives for. He can’t shoot jumpers until then. Rick won’t allow it.
“As a kid, that’s what you want to do,” Aldridge says.
But with coaches for parents — both have been the LaBrae High School girls’ varsity basketball coach, and Rick coaches the baseball team — Aldridge practices the fundamentals.
Such was the case throughout his youth.
Despite his size, Aldridge was never relegated to the post. He played along the perimeter, too, even at point guard. A quarterback on the football field, he said he benefited from the lessons he learned about reading defenses.
The athletic achievements of Lisa and his uncle, Craig Kuszmaul, also helped.
Known then as Lisa Kuszmaul, Aldridge’s mother scored a LaBrae-record 1,548 points before graduating in 1980. That mark stood until Aldridge registered 1,735. He also received inspiration from his uncle, a member of N.C. State’s 1974 national championship team.
“He was something to strive for — reaching that college level,” Aldridge said.
But it required a few more refinements to turn that goal into something greater.
Looking to join the greats
Aldridge averaged 9.4 points and 5.1 rebounds as a Davidson freshman. Yet, the strides he made before his sophomore season sparked his success.
With A-10 Player of the Year Tyler Kalinoski graduating, Aldridge said he entered the summer before his sophomore year hoping to elevate his play. He focused on his conditioning and his post moves.
Like he once did in his driveway, Aldridge worked on adding those dimensions to his game. The results showed. He averaged 15.5 points and a team-best 6.5 rebounds as a sophomore.
This past offseason, Aldridge continued adding to his versatility by improving his ball handling and his jump shot. He also gained 15 pounds. Just like before, his parents played an important role.
“When I’m at home, they’re there every single day either getting me into the gym to shoot or just in the weight room to lift,” Aldridge said. “They were there with me, helping me along the way.”
Entering Wednesday’s 7 p.m. home game against George Washington, Peyton has been one of the country’s most efficient players. His offensive rating of 119.4 ranks 16th nationally among players who use at least 24 percent of their team’s possessions, per kenpom.com.
And despite the influx of stretch fours in college basketball, Aldridge’s ever-increasing versatility has helped shape him into one of the best.
“It’s pretty special when he has this consistent level of improvement and plays such a pivotal and valuable role for our team as he has now over the last three years,” coach Bob McKillop said.
“I’m certain that when the books are put away and he graduates, he will be one of the great players that we’ve had here wear the Davidson uniform.”