Following the most difficult decision of his professional career, Al Aldridge found time for a joke.
“I’ve been accused of recruiting so much in high school, I might as well see if I can do it,” Aldridge said Wednesday when he was introduced as the women’s basketball coach at Clark College.
As he leaves the Prairie High School girls program following 32 seasons, 710 victories, and six state championships, Aldridge knows that the key to his success at the college level will be the players he can attract to Clark.
He will begin that venture Friday with a trip to Alaska for a showcase tournament featuring high school seniors.
“I think that’s the scariest part of the process,” Aldridge said. “You can be a good coach all you want, but you have to have the pieces. Learning that process is going to be a challenge.”
Aldridge said the goal is to find players who can adapt to the style his teams perfected at Prairie — a full-court pressure defense and a running offense.
It might be a difficult transition. Clark went 21-8 last year under Nancy Boone, who resigned following her sixth season at the school, but the top six players in the Penguins’ rotation were sophomores and have used up their eligibility.
Aldridge believes his stature in girls basketball throughout the Northwest will help him restock that roster.
“I think I’m well-connected with the community and with kids in the community,” he said. “I think coaching club-level basketball, I have a pretty good feel for it. Maybe I can get a hand on some of those athletes who might not have thought of coming to Clark.”
It is that kind of thinking that landed Aldridge himself at the school.
“I always shoot for the stars,” athletic director Charles Guthrie said Wednesday. “If you have high expectations, good things will happen.”
Guthrie said he consulted Clark baseball coach Don Freeman, who worked with Aldridge for many years at Prairie, before contacting the basketball coach.
“Don said, ‘You’ll never get him,’ ” Guthrie recalled. “That just motivated me more.”
Aldridge said he will continue to run the Columbia Cascades summer teams, which attract some of the top players in the Northwest. He added that the club likely will expand, because it typically did not include Clark County players who might who might face Prairie during the school season.
It’s all part of a hiring that Guthrie said is a coup for Clark College.
“Having connections to this community, that’s vital,” the athletic director said. “Also, we wanted to find a coach that can market our program, can put it on the map.”