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Loyola Maryland’s Santi Aldama to enter NBA draft without giving up college eligibility

Loyola Maryland forward Santi Aldama, left, will take a look at his NBA draft options while keeping his amateur eligibility.
Loyola Maryland forward Santi Aldama, left, will take a look at his NBA draft options while keeping his amateur eligibility. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Santi Aldama, a sophomore forward for the Loyola Maryland men’s basketball team, announced Wednesday afternoon that he will gauge the prospect of being selected in the upcoming NBA draft, but has not given up his amateur eligibility and is not transferring from the Greyhounds.

“I have decided to enter my name in the 2021 NBA Draft while maintaining my college eligibility,” Aldama wrote via Twitter. “I have always dreamed of becoming an NBA player, and I am ready to take the next step in my basketball career.”

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In a statement through a team spokesman, Aldama emphasized the option of returning to Loyola if he pulls his name out of the draft.

“I spoke with my family and the coaching staff, and I realized the opportunity was real,” he said. “Talking to them and seeing where I’m at after this season I had, it was very important to me to decide to enter the draft. The decision was straightforward because I had a good year and a good opportunity. This is my dream, and it has been my angle when playing basketball. What made the decision even easier was to have the opportunity to remain eligible with Loyola next year if I do not stay in the draft. As I had this opportunity, it made the decision a lot easier. Playing basketball and studying is important to me. If I do not have the chance to succeed this year, being able to maintain my eligibility is important to me.”

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Loyola coach Tavaras Hardy said Aldama has the full backing of him and his staff.

“He’s been in direct communication with us throughout this entire process,” Hardy said. “We’re excited to support him and this decision that he has made. It’s the right decision for him to test the waters and get the feedback and decide if he would like to stay in the draft or not.”

Aldama can work out for interested NBA franchises and accumulate assessments of his draft stock. He can then consider feedback from the NBA executives and scouts on whether he will be drafted or go undrafted before deciding whether to return to school.

Hardy said he has heard from draft gurus that Aldama is a projected second-round pick, but is seeking an ideal situation to leave college.

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“I think for Santi, it’s about the right fit and right opportunities,” Hardy said. “I don’t think he’s thinking about it in terms of, it has to be X or it has to be Y. Santi wants to go through the process and if he feels a bond with a team and it’s the right situation, then he’s going to make the decision to go for it because his ultimate goal is to play in the NBA. But he’s been very adamant that he also wants to make sure that he does everything to maintain his eligibility because he loves the student-athlete experience here at Loyola and he wants that to be an option as well.”

The 6-foot-11, 224-pound Aldama of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, was a prized recruit for Loyola Maryland in a class that included shooting guard Cameron Spencer (Boys’ Latin), fellow countryman and power forward Golden Dike and others.

Aldama recently capped a stellar sophomore campaign for the Greyhounds, who advanced to the Patriot League tournament final before falling to Colgate, 85-72, on March 14. He led the conference in rebounds at 10.1 per game and ranked second in points at 21.2, earning first-team status in the league and the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ All-District XIII.

Aldama was one of just two players at the NCAA Division I level to average 20 points and 10 rebounds, joining Austin Peay senior guard/forward Terry Taylor (21.6 points and 11.1 rebounds). Aldama was only the second player in Patriot League history to average 20 points and 10 rebounds after Colgate power forward Adonal Foyle reached those bench marks in 1995-96 and 1996-97.

Aldama became the first player in conference history — and the only player nationally — to complete a campaign averaging at least 18 points, eight rebounds, two assists and 1.5 blocks.

Aldama finished the season ranked 12th in the nation in points, 14th in rebounds, fifth in defensive rebounds (8.3), 48th in blocks (1.7) and 69th in field-goal percentage (. 513).

In August 2019, Aldama paced the Spanish national team to the FIBA U18 European Championship in Volos, Greece, where he averaged 18.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.9 steals. He was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

“Two years ago, I decided to leave Spain knowing that Loyola was just the right place to keep chasing my dream of becoming a professional basketball player in the NBA,” Aldama wrote. “Nonetheless, I never could have imagined how much I would have grown as an athlete, a student and overall as a person.”

Hardy described Aldama as a “phenomenal person” who has a big-picture mentality about his schooling and future. He said franchises that attend Aldama’s workouts will see an NBA-caliber player.

“What you would get with Santi is an extremely versatile big guy,” Hardy said. “He has big guy size but every-other-position skill. He’s capable of handling the ball, he’s capable of shooting the ball. He’s just scratching the surface with his talent. What you’re going to get is someone that has tremendous upside and can get better at every aspect of the game, and that’s what teams will be attracted to.”

Aldama averaged 21 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in three Patriot League tournament games as No. 9 seed Loyola upset No. 1 seed Navy and No. 4 seed Army West Point to advance to its first Patriot League tournament final. While Aldama’s return would fortify an emerging Greyhounds roster, Hardy said he won’t place any limitations on Aldama.

“I want what’s best for Santi,” he said. “What I do want is, I want him to find that fire with the right team and for him to feel that with the right team. If he doesn’t have that, of course we will welcome him back with open arms. Obviously, he’s a big piece of what we did this year and what we could do in the future. But at the same time, it’s about the student-athlete experience, and we’re here to serve those student-athletes, and we’ll be here if he decides to come back. Certainly we wish him well and will do everything in our power to help him achieve his goals if he decides to stay in the draft.”

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