The Spanish forward, who spent his past few seasons playing for Canterbury International Basketball Academy in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, has committed to Loyola Maryland in the class of 2019 and is getting ready to move to the USA, despite having high-level options to stay in Europe and play as a pro.
Eurohopes has had the chance to talk with Santi about his story and his choice.
Why did you choose to go to NCAA? You had the chance to stay in Europe and play professional basketball, what do you think NCAA can offer you that you can’t find in Europe?
I chose NCAA as it gives me the opportunity to study and play basketball at high level at the same time. Therefore I can improve as a basketball player and have a valuable university degree for my life after basketball.
Why did you choose Loyola (MD)? What do you think they can give you more than other places?
I knew coach Ivo Simovic and I really like how he understands basketball and how he works with players. Then I visited Loyola (MD) and I realized it was the place where I wanted to be, I also spoke with coach Tavaras Hardy and we really see basketball in a similar way, I think we can achieve great things. I loved the city, the campus and the atmosphere too, so in the end I’ve thought this suits me better than any other place.
Looking back at these past seasons as a player in Europe, which are the reasons leading you to stay with Canterbury Lions all these years? How valuable was the experience Santi Lopez and Canterbury offered you in order to prepare you to go to college?
Canterbury has been my school since I was three years old: I’ve always played here with all my friends, my family is in Gran Canaria too. I also like how we work here, Santi Lopez and all the coaches are really good; in general we are a very prestigious academy, as we demonstrate every year in Spanish championships, where we are among the top teams.
Can you describe your game and how you see yourself as a player? Which are your strengths and in which aspects you’ll need to work during your next experience in NCAA?
I think I’m a polyvalent player, as I can play multiple positions. I consider myself a good shooter, although I have to improve my consistency from three-point range. I’m 6’10 (209 centimetres) without shoes, and playing most of the time as a small forward I usually have an advantage in terms of size, I can go in the post and score effectively. On the defensive end, being tall helps me to get rebounds and block shots, but it also has a drawback: when defending quicker and smaller players I have some problems; that’s why I think I have to improve my on-ball defense and my lateral quickness. I’ve gained lot of weight since the beginning of the season, which has helped me to play more physical: I think this is important because NCAA is a very physical league, so this year has been very helpful to get prepared to that. In my four years of college I’ll try to become even stronger, faster and absorb as much knowledge as I can from coach Simovic, coach Hardy and all the rest of the staff, in order to be able to reach my maximum potential.
Can you tell us a little bit about your basketball background? How did you approach to basketball and which players did you look up to growing up?
My father played basketball for many years in Spain and also played for the Spanish national team, my uncle played many years professionally in Spain, Italy and Portugal: since I was three I started to play basketball because of them, in my school team, and I wanted to be like them growing up. I watch a lot of basketball, I’ve been watching basketball since I could: I’ve always looked up to Pau Gasol, because he’s one of the best Spanish athletes in sport’s history, and also to Kobe Bryant, because I love his mentality and his killer instinct which made him become one of the best players of all time.
As you have mentioned, your father Santiago Aldama has been a big time player in Spain during the ‘90s: he has played many years of professional basketball and has been a member of the Spanish national team, also going against the USA Dream Team during the 1992 Olympics. In which way has he influenced you to become the player you are now?
My father has always watched me playing since I started, he comes to every single game and he tries to give me feedbacks in order for me to improve as a basketball player. He has always told me about the 1992 Olympics and he speaks about that moment as a very special one in his life, he always says how it was an honour for him to be able to play against such good players.
Are you going to play with the U18 national team this summer? How much do you think a player can benefit from playing with the national team? How have you lived your experience with the national team so far?
Yes, I plan on playing for Spain at the U18 European Championship in Greece. I love to represent my country, it’s an honour for me. Two years ago I had the chance to represent Spain in the U16 European Championship in Montenegro: even though we didn’t achieve our goals, the experience allowed me to improve as a player and as a person. I think this year we have a greater scenario to demonstrate what we’re capable of and improve our result from the previous championship. I think the national team is a very good opportunity to share the locker room with the best players and the best coaches in your country, and to build some good relationships: for example I built a strong relationship with Golden Dike, and I’ll go with him to Loyola (MD). Playing for the national team is also a great opportunity in the summer, because while other players are resting at the beach we’re working both for ourselves and for our country’s team, which brings advantages in all aspects.
Among the many European players that every year decide to make the move to NCAA, Santi Aldama (’01) is one of the most intriguing prospects.