I remember the first time I saw Cole Aldrich.
Aldrich was then a freshman at Kansas University, playing under the tutelage of Bill Self and playing for the crazy Jayhawk supporters, Aldrich looked like every other KU big man who played at the school. Polished, mindful of the game and fitting in seamlessly into the program's goals. As soon as I saw him hit that funny little jumpsuit at the elbow, I said the words that every NBA player set as a standard goal, "Oh, he'll definitely play 10+ years in the league, without question."
Aldrich is in his third year of my prophecy for him. With two years under his belt, serving his apprenticeship as a big man behind veteran players with 10+ years of experience such as Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed, Aldrich couldn't pick a better triumvirate of bigs to learn from. All three with their own set of skills (Taken!) and a desire to lead, Aldrich's notebook was filled with learning how to set screens, blocking out and fouling superstars real hard when the time presents itself.
Now, while Perkins and Collison have returned, along with the defensive Dhalsim of the NBA in Serge Ibaka, backup center Mohammed has left the team via free agency. Head coach Scott Brooks has said that the backup center job is Cole's to lose, and Aldrich seems poised in just being the best "Cole Aldrich he can be."
The Thunder will need Aldrich to step up. The landscape of the NBA has changed, and having additional front line bodies to throw at opposing bigs could be essential to a title run for Oklahoma City. Aldrich is at least built for this, as having a skilled and athletic 6'11" and 240 pounder on your bench is definitely something of a luxury these days.
One team I can remember recently having a player of a similar skillet and frame was the Chicago Bulls. His name was Omer Asik. Asik also played behind quality bigs, and as he grew in confidence on the team so did his role in the lineup. Soon, Asik was crashing the boards with reckless abandon, defending other teams' bigs with no fear and running right to the rim to get easy buckets. Bulls fans began wondering if Asik should start over Joakim Noah, that's how effective he was.
I'm not saying that Aldrich should, or would ever deserve a starting gig for the Thunder, but Asik's role was a prominent one. Be the big we need off the bench, don't hold anything back and become an integral part of our growth on the court versus on the bench.
Who knows, maybe one day I'll think back and remember the last time I saw Cole Aldrich. A solid 10-year NBA veteran, did whatever the team needed him to do, and won a championship ring or three in the process.