How drive, selflessness have pushed Lauren Aldridge in basketball and beyond
Aldridge wraps up her basketball career on Sunday against Alabama, but her sports and law career are likely far from over.
Mar. 03, 2019
Study, practice, anticipate, counter, win.
It’s a process Lauren Aldridge abides by and it applies in more than one area of her hectic, double-faceted college life. Both facets are her greatest passions — basketball and law — and she says mastering one helps her master the other.
In basketball, it’s watching film; identifying the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses; preparing yourself physically in practice; then executing to limit the strengths and exploit the weakness. In law, it’s researching the facts and background; preparing statements and questions; anticipating the opposing counsel’s cross-examination; then striking with a rebuttal.
The most important step of both processes is the last: win.
“In a scouting report, it’s putting all the Xs and Os together to win a game,” the Missouri point guard said. “In law school, it’s putting all the analytical stuff together to win a case.”
Applying that mantra to her law school practices at MU and her performance on the women’s basketball team, Aldridge, 22, has found success as the busiest and truest manifestation of the NCAA’s age-old term, “student-athlete.”
The senior, who’s now halfway through her 2L, will play at Mizzou Arena one last time Sunday against Alabama. Over four years and two schools, she’s started every game she’s played in. Those who have watched her grow say she has gone about it with two endearing qualities: drive and selflessness.
“It's just been so special," Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said of Lauren on Saturday. "She’s an awfully driven young lady, obviously, to be in law school and juggling everything that she does, but to really own just what that means – as a point guard, as a leader – I think has been really neat to see the growth in her. [She's] somebody that I think just wants to serve her teammates and do the right thing.”
Lauren’s career has stemmed from a lot: a tight-knit family; transferring schools; and the decision to balance her time as an athlete with law school.
UC Santa Barbara basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson still remembers Aldridge playing as a sophomore in high school. It was clear she was “a winner.”
She saw toughness, competitiveness and an ability to communicate. There was a lot of maturity — a great student and teammate with great energy — at such a young age, too.
Then Henrickson — head coach at the University of Kansas at the time — met the family.
“[They] competed in everything they did,” Henrickson said of the Aldridges. “Her older brother and her siblings, they were involved in the process … [the] whole family was in the mix and concerned about her decision.”
Lauren’s brother Tyler said the family makes an effort to attend all of Lauren’s games, even the ones miles away.
“We try to get at least one body there,” he said Monday. “If I sound tired, we got in at 3 a.m. last night from Auburn and I woke up and went to work this morning.”
That’s been the Aldridge-clan routine for about the last decade now. Tyler joked the family spent its summer vacations in gymnasiums.
“We'd go to New Orleans and we'd go see a few things, and then it'd be back to the gym,” he said. “And then we go to Augusta and we'd go see a few things, back to the gym. Nashville, same thing.”
In the gym with Lauren — from her first grade YMCA team until college — was her father and coach, Steve, who preferred not to be interviewed for this story. Lauren’s mother, Jennifer, said figuring out the blend of those roles was a learning process for the family.
“He has coached all four of our children in various sports and two of them have been able to handle that ... and two of them, we recognized early on, ‘OK, this doesn’t fit with their personality,’ and he stepped away,” Jennifer said.
For Lauren, it was a matter of working through the trials and tribulations of a new facet of her father. She learned to grow with it.
“Whenever your dad is your coach, you take things a little bit more personally,” Lauren said. “I remember that being the case with me and my dad, but throughout it all, I think that we both kind of grew. I think that my dad and I both had to work on what it looks like to be a coach and a player in between the lines.”
Balancing their father-daughter relationship with their coach-player relationship “paid dividends,” Lauren said. Aldridge still wants her father's help when her shot’s not falling. He’s even made the trek from Marshfield, Missouri – Lauren’s hometown – to Columbia to help her in the gym.
“We walk through life together, we walked through basketball together and it's just been a really important relationship,” she said.
After two years at KU – which included an All-Freshman Big 12 recognition and two years All-Academic Big 12 – Aldridge announced in March 2016 that she was transferring to the University of Missouri.
Aldridge was eager to get to MU. Former teammate Kayla Michael remembers that from their first conversation.
“[She was] just so excited and eager to kind of have a fresh start and jump two feet into everything that was going on at Mizzou,” Michael said.
Pingeton said in October that a redshirt year is always hard, especially for a player in Aldridge’s scenario. She had started every game of her career. That mixed with the new start left Aldridge with two options as a redshirt: coast, or work harder. She chose the latter.
“She was one of the most invested players on the team,” Michael said. “I remember her playing with the scout guards and playing so hard every day and a lot of it was just playing defense over and over again…She never has a day where she makes excuses for not working hard.”
Aldridge also spent a lot of time at home that redshirt season, as she couldn’t travel with the team. She used the opportunity to work with her father.
“I'd always go home and we just got to spend a lot of time together in the gym,” Aldridge said. “I don't know if it was really like we worked on anything specific, but just to be able to like get back to the fundamentals of, you know, my shot and you know, ‘What am I good at?’ ‘How do we continue to grow that on my redshirt year?’”
Aldridge graduated Magna Cum Laude from MU with a degree in political science in May 2016. Not only did it mark a big day for her but it begged the question: What would she do next?
Aldridge decided to pursue a law degree at MU to maintain eligibility, all while starting for a top-25 basketball program.
A lot of people had similar reactions to her decision. Jennifer was behind it 100 percent. Michael thought Lauren was “kind of crazy,” but didn’t doubt the next step. Henrickson chuckled when asked if it surprised her.
“No, not at all,” she said. “If you’d have asked me earlier in my career who I think could’ve pulled that off, it would’ve been her.”
It was something widely discussed, too. Local and statewide media outlets covered it. Even the NCAA did a video feature on Lauren: The girl juggling D1 sports and her 2L.
“I told Robin Pingeton and Lauren that — as long as she was in good standing by the end of the first year — I’d be really proud of her,” Bob Bailey, Lauren's advisor and assistant dean emeritus of the MU School of Law, said. “We’re talking minimum 100 hours a week between the two... She did extremely well in law school and that in itself speaks volumes about Lauren.”
A year removed from her 1L, Aldridge was in quite high spirits about her 2L.
“The scheduling aspect of it is so much better and you just kind of know what to expect,” she said at a pre-season media day. “I like to think I have it pretty much down.”
"Having it down" was something that took time, as the learning curve was initially chaotic.
“There were some times where I was crying over my Torts book and crying over my [Civil Procedure] book, because I had no idea what was going on," Aldridge said. "Not only that, it was 12 o’clock at night and I just had a three hour practice and we had a game the next day.”
The loads of coursework and game prep taught Aldridge to time manage “like a pro.” Her fall ‘18 semester was daunting, but she stayed the course with a tight schedule.
Every morning started the same: 6 a.m., sharp, an alarm would go off and Lauren would brew a pot of coffee. Then, downstairs for what she calls “Jesus time.”
“Just setting my mind on the things that are most important to me at the beginning of the day,” she said of the daily morning hour. “[I] just have some time in prayer and all those sorts of things, just to kind of renew my mind.”
She spent about an hour – from 6 to 7 – in the Word. Then she’s out the door by 7:30 for class at 8. There's Antitrust Law and loitering classes from 8 to 8:50, then Constitutional Law from 9 to 9:50. Then, from 11:40 to 12:55, she had Comparative Constitutional Law. Between her 9 a.m. and her 11:40, she was in a carrel at the law school, where she’d “set up shop” all semester.
After the 11:40, over to the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex for lunch, then to the gym for a workout before practice. Then the actual practice. Afterward, at around 7, she’d grab dinner from either the MATC or home and head back to studying for the next two hours. Then it’s bedtime at 9:30.
Lauren said there wasn’t a lot of budging and despite classes ending a little later and practices starting sooner, she said not much has changed this semester.
She won’t be juggling practice and workouts with her readings next year. However, she doesn’t expect her 3L year to look much different from the last two. In fact, 3L may be just as intense. She’ll take 15 credit hours each semester — as opposed to the 12 she’d take as student-athlete — to graduate in 2020.
“I think that my nose is still going to be stuck in a book most days, because I'll be playing a little bit of catch up,” she said. “But I think there'll be a tough adjustment just going from having something that I think gets your mind off of law school for about four or five hours a day.”
She’ll need to find a hobby, but for now, she’s set to intern with the Greene County, Missouri, Prosecuting Attorney’s Office from August to January 2020. Working as a Rule 013 certification intern, she’ll be able to take on her own caseload and work with the general crimes unit.
While she may not have a dream job in mind, she knows the career field she wants to be in.
“Something along the lines of working for the NCAA," Aldridge said. "Maybe being general counsel for a professional sports team, doing transactional stuff. I have to stay in sports somehow.”
Beyond her 3L, Aldridge has already started the interview process with a sports and entertainment agency and the PAC-12 Conference about potential internships. Sports or not, her biggest goal is to give back with her degree.
“Athletics have given me a platform to be able to give back to the community and I think I’m going to try to instill that in my career moving forward,” she said. “I’ve got a big heart for the community and so I want to give back in any way I can.”
With a lot down the road, Mizzou seems like a pit stop in Aldridge’s career, but it’s been full of memories. She plans to carry them with her for the rest of her life.
“I was talking to all the girls last night in the locker room and I was like, before I came here, I never really had friends,” Aldridge said in October. “Maybe it was because I’m a complete weirdo – and that could be very possible – but to come here and to have girls that I absolutely love, girls that are going to be in my wedding one day, is a really cool experience.”
Edited by Emily Leiker | firstname.lastname@example.org