Pasta and post play

LaBrae grad Aldridge back from Italy for NBA Summer League stint with Grizzlies

Peyton Aldridge certainly didn’t come home from Italy empty handed.

The former LaBrae High School basketball star, who spent his first year out of college playing professionally for Vanoli Cremona in Italy, learned a lot about basketball over the past year … and pasta.

“The food was amazing,” he said. “I never got tired of eating pasta. A teammate of mine even gave me a special carbonara recipe.”

Basketball was pretty good too.

As part of the Lega Basket Serie A league, Aldridge’s team finished 20-10. Aldridge’s numbers weren’t eye-popping as he averaged 11.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 29 games, but he made strides in a few key areas, which was his main goal.

Maybe of more importance, he played well enough to catch the attention of some NBA teams, specifically the Memphis Grizzlies. He’s currently playing for the Grizzlies Summer League team in Las Vegas, which comes a week after playing in the Salt Lake City Summer League, also for the Grizzlies.

“I was gonna go do a little mini-camp with the (Washington) Wizards and potentially, summer league could have came out of that,” Aldridge said. “The night of the draft, the Grizzlies reached out to my agent and wanted to extend me a spot to play in the Utah Summer League before the Vegas one because Brandon Clark, their draft pick, wasn’t able to play because of a trade. He wasn’t eligible until the sixth of July, so they had an opening. I decided to jump on that and take advantage of that opportunity.”

It’s a league Aldridge knows well.

The former co-Atlantic 10 Player of the Year out of Davidson College, Aldridge went undrafted following his senior season in 2018. He was part of the Utah Jazz summer league team last year before eventually going to Italy.

The 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward learned from last year’s experience.

“In terms of learning and understanding how summer league works, it’s really helped me,” he said. “We played three games in Utah and two here in Vegas. We’re 4-1 (as of Monday), and I’ve played in four out of the five games. I’m getting decent minutes, and really enjoying it.”

His time in Italy is a big reason why.

Aldridge said the game is only slightly different outside of the United States, and the main variances are the pace of play and the physicality. Aldridge looked at the deviations as positives because those were areas he needed to improve.

A forward who played on the wing a lot in college, it was important for Aldridge to diversify his game. That also meant improving his defense, a fault he admitted scared a few teams off out of college.

“I always want to get better on the defensive end, being able to guard multiple positions,” he said. “That was one of the spots I improved on by the end of the year because we switched a lot with our team, so I was guarding those guards a lot of the time. It was a great opportunity.

“As I progress throughout the year, one thing I want to get better at is scoring on the low post,” he added. “In Italy, it’s really physical. They let you play with physicality compared to college, where if you try to extend a forearm or something, you get called for a foul. But over there, they really let you play in the post.”

Aldridge has had plenty of time to work on things.

He spent the majority of the last year focusing solely on basketball. While the sport was a major part of his life throughout high school and college, Aldridge has never dedicated all of his time to it — until now.

The 23-year-old isn’t positive the commitment will lead to him joining an NBA team for good, but he likes the direction he is headed.

“Just getting a whole year just to focus on basketball (helped me improve),” he said. “In college, you focus on school, homework, all that other stuff, so just getting a year where you’re focusing on basketball, getting in the gym everyday, working on your craft.

“And just getting to play against different opponents (was a help). I played against some former NBA guys, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, they were in the league, and a couple other guys. Getting to play against them and even learning from some of the older guys was a great experience.”

So good he wouldn’t mind going back for more basketball … and pasta.