Aldrich Aims To Make Impact On Defensive End

Dressed in a three-piece suit with a no. 45 Thunder jersey in his hands and his parents sitting before him, Cole Aldrich said he arrived to Oklahoma City already feeling at home.

There are the obvious reasons why Aldrich, the No. 11 draft pick who the Thunder acquired in a trade with the New Orleans Hornets, came here with a certain comfort level, notably the fact that he attended college less than 500 miles north of here, played with several Oklahomans at Kansas and had an existing relationship with Nick Collison, a former Jayhawk and now current teammate.

But from a standpoint of moving forward, both on and off the court, Aldrich said he felt welcome the moment he joined his teammates in Orlando for the final two days of summer league, when he was exposed to the team-first concept and work ethic the Thunder organization prides itself in.

“The one thing that impressed me a lot was just the family camaraderie,” he said. “Everybody hangs out with everybody.”

And when he stepped inside the Thunder’s practice facility, the pictures that adorned the walls only reaffirmed his belief that he couldn’t have landed in a better situation, that he and the Thunder already shared the same values on the floor.

“You look at pictures of all the guys on the walls and the big picture over there, it’s all about the little things,” Aldrich said. “The fundamental things are where you start and where you grow. The whole wall over there is defensive plays. You don’t see anybody shooting a ball or anything like that on offense. It’s a great place for me because I love playing defense.”

Aldrich was a two-time Big 12 defensive player of the year at Kansas, an elite program that held the highest RPI rating in the nation last season and reached the Final Four during his freshman season. So Aldrich was bred in a winning culture and came here with a defensive mentality that falls in line with the Thunder’s core values.

Executive Vice President/General Manager Sam Presti called Aldrich an earner, although when he saw the Jayhawk play his final collegiate game inside the Ford Center he wasn’t sure if it would be possible to land him. It isn’t often for a team coming off a 50-win season and playoff berth to find itself in the position to draft a player of Aldrich’s caliber. What made the acquisition even more fruitful was that the Thunder didn’t have to give up any of its core players to get him.

“Things broke positively for us,” Presti said. “We we were able to get a person we felt like, as Scotty said and Cole as well, was someone who continues to strengthen the organization by sharing the same kind of mentality that we’ve tried to layer the team with at this point. But you never know. You have to be ready for anything. In this case it worked out for us. We got someone who we feel will be good for us now and also capable of growing with the team as he gets more experience and time.”

One thing that continued to come up during the evaluation process was that Aldrich consistently made the routine play, Presti said. Head coach Scott Brooks said he liked the fact that Aldrich does the little things on the court.

“He defends, he protects the basket, he rebounds, het sets great screens, he’s a great outlet passer,” Brooks said. “We’re not looking for him to come in here and be a big-time scorer. We have a team who can score some points.”

Aldrich said he was always taller than his competition, so being a defensive presence came naturally.

“I wouldn’t say I was a bully on the court but I was just bigger than everybody and I loved to block shots and rebound and if somebody comes in the lane I don’t want them to score,” he said. “I take real pride in blocking a shot or altering a shot or even having them pass it off. I always like to think that the paint is kind of my home and I don’t want anybody coming in my home.”

Aldrich wanted to be so in-tune with what the Thunder does defensively that one of the first questions he asked Brooks upon meeting him last week was how the team likes to defend pick and rolls.

“I was very impressed,” Brooks said. “He wants to know what we’re doing right now and he’s eager to get into the flow of things.”

Aldrich plans to spend the remainder of the summer becoming acclimated with the Oklahoma City area and working out with the Thunder coaching staff. As far as what type of immediate role Aldrich will have next season, Brooks reiterated the same message he delivered last summer: minutes will have to be earned in training camp.

“If Cole wants to play on the floor he has to show the coaches he’s deserving of those minutes,” Brooks said. “But we like what he’s about. He’s an intangible player that makes winning basketball plays and you can never have enough players like that on the floor. So I look forward to getting to know him and seeing what he can bring to our team.”

Contact Chris Silva