When Bloomington Jefferson product Cole Aldrich signed a three-year contract with the Timberwolves last summer, he immediately became one of just a handful of veterans on a team dominated by a youthful core. The 28-year-old center has been productive in limited minutes for the Wolves. He chatted recently about the season with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand.
Q The assumption when you signed was that you would be a sort of elder statesman on a young roster. Has that role played out so far?
A Well, with Jordan [Hill], myself, Brandon [Rush] and we had John Lucas earlier in the year, it’s fun to have those guys and the young guys. The teams we were on last year, we were all on older teams, playoff teams. Being able to bring our experience from those teams to a younger group of guys has been a lot of fun.
Q Head coach Tom Thibodeau keeps hammering home the defensive points of emphasis after games. When you’re a young player, is that the hardest thing to learn or understand about the NBA?
A It is tough. I think everybody — fans, players even — kind of looks at the sexy side of the game. There are the dunks, the scoring, the three-pointers and all that. But it’s kind of the grit and the grind that wins you the games. That’s something we’re continuing to learn every day. We work on it when we have time in practice. We’ve made strides, and we’ll continue to make strides.
Q That’s kind of your game, right — grit and grind?
A Oh, it is. And the game has evolved over the years that I’ve been in the league. It’s a lot more pick-and-rolls and spreading the court. But rebounding and setting screens and knowing how to defend coverages are huge.
Q Has it been a challenge for you, with playing time that kind of comes and goes?
A I kind of look at it as every year is a new challenge. The challenge this year was being on a younger team and being able to teach those guys how to get over the hump. For me, personally, my job is to find us ways to win. That means staying ready. My situation last year [with the Clippers], I didn’t play much in the first 20 to 25 games. Then Christmas came around and I was in shape, stayed ready, and I ran with the opportunity.
Q How has the homecoming aspect of the season, being back in Minnesota, felt this year?
A It’s been fun. The fans are great here. You see them start to pack into Target Center and support us, and that’s huge. We need to continue to give them reasons to support us and fill the arena. Winning is going to do that. Getting back on defense and doing those grit-and-grind things will definitely do that.
Q Do you pull specific guys aside in practice to show them finer points about defensive coverages?
A I talk to Gorgui [Dieng] quite a bit. Gorgui is in his fourth year, and it’s incredible to be a 38-year-old in four years [laughs; Dieng is only 27]. But it’s been fun, just teaching him little things that make a huge difference. Being up early with a guy on a pick-and-roll, making the guard take an extra step. All of those things I’ve been taught — I’m here to help those guys out.