Get an inside look at No. 45’s journey to the NBA and how he has quickly made an impact on the Kings as a defensive specialist.
Cole Aldrich leaned back in a chair in front of his Kings locker – ice packs covering his outstretched legs – as he fielded questions about his instrumental performance against the visiting Chicago Bulls on March 13. In Sacramento’s 42-point rout, the center tied his season-highs in points (six) and rebounds (six), while showcasing his post presence on both ends of the court.
As he flashed a wide smile, the big man revealed a missing front left tooth, which he lost back in February 2009.
“I had it knocked out my sophomore year in college – it was against (Kansas State) at home,” said No. 45. “I tried to get it fixed, it failed and I’m back at square one right now.
“It makes me look tough,” he added with a chuckle.
At 6-foot-11 and 245 pounds – with a penchant for crashing the glass, swatting shots at the basket and finishing with authority – Aldrich plays with toughness and physicality.
“He’s absolutely tough and he’s a defensive presence,” says Isaiah Thomas. “He’s a heck of a defender – he uses his size and strength to his advantage.”
While some of his biggest contributions on the court – setting hard picks, boxing out defenders and contesting shots at the rim – may not show up in the box score, Aldrich’s teammates value his active role.
“I love playing with Cole,” says Thomas. “For a guard, you love playing with a guy like him, who wants to set picks for you and wants to get you open.”
“He’s able to move his feet, he’s able to communicate on the defensive end, he understands his defensive assignment, he has a high basketball IQ and he’s relentless on the boards,” adds Patrick Patterson. “He also gives multiple efforts and he’s always someone you can rely on to be back there, protecting the basket.”
Aldrich prides himself on precisely those kinds of less-heralded “little things.”
“(I bring) defense, rebounding – I’m just a guy who works hard,” he says matter-of-factly. “I love to do what helps the team be successful – set screens, talk on defense – because I’ve learned that through the other teams that I’ve been with.”
After deciding to give basketball a try at the suggestion of his mother, the Minnesota native quickly developed into one of the top players in the state, attributing his rapid rise to his passion for numerous athletic outlets.
“I played so many sports when I was younger – football, basketball, soccer, (riding) my bike all around with my friends – so I was never just focused on one thing,” he says. “I think that’s what helped me succeed in basketball.”
On the heels of earning numerous collegiate accolades – including Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2009 and 2010 – the University of Kansas product was selected 11th overall in the 2010 NBA Draft by the New Orleans Hornets and immediately traded to the Thunder.
“My first two years in Oklahoma City were awesome,” he reflects. “I still talk to those guys. They really helped me improve my game.”
Over the course of his two seasons with the Thunder, the center also showcased his skill set and future potential with the D-League’s Tulsa 66ers. In 2010-11, Aldrich ranked third in the D-League in blocks per game (2.6) and defensive rating (99.8) and fifth in defensive rebound percentage (24.2) over 21 contests.
“At first it was tough mentally – you obviously want to play in the NBA, especially with a good team like we had,” he admits. “But it was a good experience for me. It was tough to crack the rotation because (we) had so many guys on the team – Nazr (Mohammed), Nenad Krstic, (Kendrick Perkins) and Nick Collison.”
In addition to learning the nuances of the pro game from Oklahoma City’s veteran big men, Aldrich says he gained valuable insight and developed an even more stringent work ethic by playing alongside NBA All-Stars Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
“Those guys just work extremely hard, and that’s why they were so good as a team,” says No. 45. “They’d come into the gym before I did when I was a rookie. I was on the court at 9 a.m. for an 11 a.m. practice, and those guys would beat me most days. With superstars like they are, it speaks volumes.”
Last season, the Kansas alum gained his first postseason experience, appearing in five contests during the Thunder’s run to the Finals. In Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Lakers on May 14, 2012, Aldrich notched seven points and six rebounds in just nine minutes.
“Throughout the Playoffs, you learn so many things and the experience you get is special,” he says. “Not many people get to play in the Playoffs and then get to the Finals and play a few minutes.”
Aldrich aims to share the lessons he learned with Sacramento’s fellow up-and-comers in order to help the Kings reach the next level. The big man has already come away impressed and inspired by the team’s effort and mindset in closing out the season on a high note.
“We have a lot of pride – we’re playing hard,” he says. “It (speaks) volumes about what we can do as a team.”
It hasn’t taken long for the multifaceted center to establish himself as a difference-maker on the defensive end, where he’s used his size and terrific instincts around the rim to come up with momentum-changing plays in key moments.
“I just want to get (Aldrich) to understand that a big way of you developing with our basketball team is to rebound and block shots and play defense,” says Kings Head Coach Keith Smart. “He’s shown that a little bit here in the short time we’ve had him … we just want to keep growing him into that, because it’s an important role for any player on a basketball team.”
The third-year big man has not only used his 7-foot-5 wingspan to deny easy looks to opposing centers, but has consistently defended the pick-and-roll with sound fundamentals.
“He’s always rotating to the ball, hunting down the ball and trying to get weakside blocks,” says veteran John Salmons. “That’s definitely a dynamic we’ve been missing since I’ve been here.”
In 10 games in purple and black, Aldrich boasts a +44 plus/minus rating, while averaging 7.4 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes, according to NBA.com/stats and Basketball-Reference.com, respectively.
With tremendous upside and valuable postseason experience, the 24-year-old recognizes the Kings immense potential.
“This is a team that’s going to continue to work hard,” says Aldrich. “We can just slowly get better, and I’ve seen it with the teams I’ve been on – it’s just the little steps and everything starts to go well for you.”
– Patterson, who’s developed a close bond with No. 45 over the years, says the big man is as reliable a friend as he is a shot-blocker.
“I’ve known Cole for quite some time now – since high school – (and he’s) just someone I can always trust, someone who’s always there when I need him,” says the Kentucky product. “He’s just a good, loyal friend.”
– In addition to going out to movies and exploring the city, Aldrich says he enjoys outdoor recreational activities and spending time with loved ones.
“In the summer time, the thing I like to do workout-wise is ride bikes. I also love going golfing,” he says. “I hang out with friends and spend time with my fiancée.”
– Aldrich discloses his pregame music playlist includes a diverse mix of genres and artists.
“I listen to everything,” he says. “Rap to country to John Mayer to The Rolling Stones.”