FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - Cole Aldrich made his professional debut, Serge Ibaka made a long-awaited appearance in the starting lineup and Byron Mullens made the most difficult plays look easy.
All three made the most of his minutes.
With the Thunder opening its 2010 preseason on Wednesday against Charlotte down two starters and one key reserve due to injuries and illness, it was the team's young trio of big men that strutted their stuff in a 97-93 win over the Bobcats inside Crown Coliseum.
Ibaka, starting at center in place of Nenad Krstic, scored 12 points and pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds for the game's lone double-double. The second-year post man showed solid shooting touch from the left block and the same relentless aggressiveness in the paint with a handful of putback dunks. Ibaka finished 5-for-13 from the field in 26 minutes.
Aldrich, the No. 11 overall pick from Kansas, didn't check in until 7:15 remained in the second quarter. But he quickly showed the ball-hound instincts that some of his teammates have raved about since the Orlando summer league. In just 19 minutes, Aldrich corralled seven rebounds, blocked one shot and made his presence felt with hard screens and all-out hustle.
"I just had a fun time," Aldrich said. "I had a little nerves, but we just go out and play hard...I'm just an energy guy. I just love going out and playing basketball and going after the ball. I'm just trying to go out and put a lid on the hoop and make sure defensively that we do a good job."