Born: March 31, 1948
High School/Colleges: Lamar/University of Tennessee, Tennessee Wesleyan
Then: There were few dull moments at Lamar High School when Kelly Aldridge played basketball there.
Aldridge scorched the nets with high-scoring performances, and coach Aubrey Painter kept players and spectators in stitches with his antics.
Lamar drew much attention when the 6-foot-3, 160-pound Aldridge was a senior. He led the state in scoring with a 33.6-point average, making 54 percent of his field goal attempts.
His mobility restricted somewhat by a knee brace, Aldridge was deadly with jump shots and had range up to 28 feet.
“I’d like to have had the 3-point goal back then,’’ he said.
A four-year starter, he scored 1,554 career points — 804 as a senior guard, 484 as a junior guard, 177 as a sophomore forward and 89 as a freshman center.
Knocked down by a Mary Hughes player, Aldridge missed more than half his sophomore season because of a knee injury and the first seven games as a junior after having corrective surgery. When he got hurt, the Cherokees’ win-loss record was 8-0. They finished his sophomore year 14-14.
“I’d never picked up a ball until seventh grade,’’ Aldridge said. “I shot two-handed and was horrible. My brother, Gordon, told me to get the ball above my head and shoot one-handed or go home.
“I practiced shooting the ball two hours a day and earned a varsity starting position as a freshman.’’
Some of Kelly Aldridge’s scoring outputs became legend. He hit 53 points against Washington College Academy, 51 against Fall Branch and 40-plus a number of other times. The night he got 53 it had been determined that Aldridge was officially the state scoring champion, with Madison’s Alex Beavers second at 31.2.
“Kelly, you’ve already won the state scoring title,’’ Painter said in the dressing room before the game. “You rebound tonight and let the others do the scoring.’’
Aldridge had no problem with that. He scored only 11 points in the opening half.
One of Lamar’s supporters informed Painter that the academy team planned to hold Aldridge scoreless in the second half with a box-and-1 defense. That didn’t sit well with Painter, who always wanted the last laugh.
“If that’s what they came for, he’ll shoot it every time,’’ the coach said. “You guys rebound and let Kelly shoot the ball.’’
Aldridge blazed in 25 points in the third quarter and finished with 53 by sinking 24 of 37 field goal attempts (65.4 percent).
There were some interesting matchups between Boones Creek’s Toonie Cash, a junior, and Aldridge, a senior. Cash hit 40 points as Boones Creek beat Lamar. The second time around, Aldridge was assigned to guard Cash and outscored him 39-19. Still, Cash hit a last-second shot in overtime for a 59-57 Boones Creek win.
“I played through a lot of injuries and for a coach who was quite a character in his own right,’’ Aldridge said. “You could tell stories about Aubrey on and on. I appreciate what he did for me. He allowed me to lead the state in scoring and I’m not sure many other coaches would have.
“He did things for a lot of kids. If we went somewhere and didn’t have any money, he’d pay for meals out of his own pocket and never ask for it back. He gave a lot to the game.’’
Aldridge vividly recalls a drubbing Lamar received at Unicoi County when he was a freshman.
“Hey, Aubrey!’’ a woman yelled from the bleachers after the game. “Where’s your secret weapon now?’’
Painter mumbled: “They’ll find out when they come to our place.’’
When Unicoi played at Lamar, Painter instructed his team to stall the ball the entire game. This was before the five-second count got instituted and Lamar had outstanding ball handlers. Unicoi County won 8-7 on a last-second shot.
“Nobody broke a sweat,’’ Aldridge said. “It made no sense to take a shower that night.’’
During one practice, Painter realized he’d left his whistle at home. He sent his manager to the grocery store to buy a box of Wheaties, which had a toy whistle inside.
Painter coached all sports at Lamar. Two of his runners hopped into a bread-delivery truck for a ride one day during a cross country meet. Of course, they were huffing and puffing once they approached Painter at the finish line. He listed them as first and second and telephoned the meet results to the Johnson City Press. The boys confessed a few days later and Painter had to submit a correction.
Aldridge’s father died when he was 10 and the family’s money was scarce. Basketball was his ticket to college. He had official visits to Alabama, Tennessee, Wake Forest and Georgia lined up.
“I visited Alabama but canceled trips to Wake Forest and Georgia after signing with Tennessee,’’ he said. “I’d always dreamed of playing for the Vols.’’
Aldridge scored 18 points in the last six minutes of a freshman game against Vanderbilt.
He didn’t get along with UT assistant Stu Aberdeen and transferred to Tennessee Wesleyan. Twice an all-conference player, he averaged 20 points as a sophomore and junior before suffering a career-ending back injury.
Now: Aldridge, who has spent 38 years in education, recently underwent a knee replacement and is retiring as teacher/coach at Chuckey-Doak Middle School.
He and his wife, Dinah, have one son, one daughter and four grandchildren. Brandon was a college prospect at Chuckey-Doak High School until a knee injury occurred. Haven played on a state championship team at South Greene High School and in only six losses over four years. She had an exceptional career at Cumberland (Ky.) College.
Bill Lane is a Times-News sports writer. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.