If you're a raw 24-year-old rookie looking to learn the tricks of the trade as an NBA big man, there's no better school than Shaq University.
Semih Erden is making that discovery this week — with Jermaine O'Neal nursing hamstring soreness and keeping out of the Celtics' full contact scrimmages, the C's Turkish rookie center has found himself going up against Shaquille O'Neal in practice every day.
With J.O. sidelined and Shaq playing with the starting five, the battle down low this week has been a showdown between young and old — Shaq and Kevin Garnett as the starters, and Erden playing with Glen Davis on the second unit.
So far, the new kid has impressed.
"He's good," Shaq said Tuesday. "He can learn from myself, he can learn from Kevin. But he's already a great guy. Great guy."
Initially, with Erden joining a loaded big man corps dominated by Hall of Fame-caliber veterans, there was reason to doubt that the Fenerbahçe Ülker product would see any time in the Celtics' rotation. But that's already been disproven — as injuries begin to creep up on these C's, big man depth has proven to be a valuable asset in Boston.
"Semih's been great," coach Doc Rivers said. "We're going to need Semih, and I keep saying that. I don't know when, but he'll be the ax in the glass — in case you need it, you have to break it. And that may happen a lot. I think it will happen a lot. Semih knows how to play basketball. He doesn't know our stuff yet, but that will come as well."
Erden isn't a typical international big man, sticking to the perimeter and chucking up jumpers like an Andrea Bargnani or a Mehmet Okur. He's aggressive, putting his 7-foot stature to good use by posting up opposing bigs. Even against a living legend like Shaq or KG, Erden has refused to shy away. The kid just makes plays.
"Semih's very poised," said Garnett. "I've been very impressed with Semih's play. He's had a great camp. You know, playing Shaq every day and playing J.O. every day is not an easy thing, but he's been holding his own. He's looked very impressive, and I'm very happy to have him here."
Even the language barrier is getting easier with time. But when asked if Erden had taught him any Turkish, KG wisely shirked the question.
"None that I can share with you guys," he said.