Loyola Maryland forward Santi Aldama entering draft, will retain eligibility

Santi Aldama averaged 21.2 PPG and 10.1 RPG for Loyola Maryland last season. Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Loyola Maryland sophomore Santi Aldama is entering the 2021 NBA draft, but will maintain his college eligibility and retain the option to return to school, he told ESPN Wednesday.

The 6-foot-11 forward, the No. 57 prospect in the ESPN 100 NBA draft rankings, was named first-team All-Conference in the Patriot League after an outstanding season in which he averaged 21.2 points, 10.1 rebounds 2.3 assists and 1.7 blocks, shooting 59% from 2-point range and 37% for 3.

Aldama helped lead the Greyhounds to the Patriot League tournament championship game, where they lost to Colgate. He had perhaps the best game of his college career in the semifinals, posting 33 points on just 15 field goal attempts to go along with 12 rebounds.

"This was a very good season for me," Aldama told ESPN. "I stepped up in every aspect of the game. I had a chance to get in rhythm and play consistently at a high level. I think NBA teams learned that about me, watching me every night doing all the different things I can do with my versatility. How I've gotten bigger and stronger and more consistent with my shot."

Aldama made a name for himself on the international FIBA circuit playing for the Spanish national team, winning the U18 European Championship in 2019 and being named MVP of the tournament. Several projected 2021 first-round picks including Franz Wagner, Alperen Sengun and Usman Garuba were in attendance, as well as 2020 first rounder Aleksej Pokusevski.

The 20-year-old Aldama is intriguing to NBA teams due to his combination of size, ball-handling, passing, shooting and defensive instincts. He was often asked to play a primary creation role for Loyola. He is at his best pushing the ball off the defensive glass and is frequently used as a pick-and-roll ball handler, being capable of changing speeds fluidly out of hesitation moves, finishing creatively around the basket with either hand or finding teammates on the move off a live dribble.

Aldama will have an opportunity to use the pre-draft process to receive feedback from NBA teams on where he stands in their eyes, as well as what he needs to improve on. His team's uneven and heavily COVID interrupted schedule, which came entirely against Patriot League competition, likely hampered NBA teams from getting a clear gauge on how to evaluate him compared to his peers from power conferences.

"I'm looking forward to showing NBA teams more things about me -- showing them how I can do the same things I did all season against stronger and faster players," he said. "The main thing for me to stay in the NBA draft is feeling that teams have real interest in me and would like me to be a part of their team. That's the key for me to stay in the draft."

The NBA draft will be conducted on July 29. The league has scheduled its draft combine for June 21-27, featuring competitive 5-on-5 action "subject to public health conditions."