The Summer Maturation Of DeMarcus Cousins
07/11/2012 01:26 AM
“No way…mental issues…he is on bigtime meds i hear…not athletic enough for me talent wise also”
Those words came from the ever-loquacious and always available “anonymous scout” in June of 2010 and served as the the perfect summation of what we’ve come to know in the national media of DeMarcus Cousins, the basketball player. He’s a tremendously talented prospect carrying a reputation that’s one part earned, one part NBA executive wives tale. Despite an incredibly productive freshman season without any incidents, his reputation as a team cancer grew to such epic proportions around the time that quote was made, three NBA general managers saw fit to take Evan Turner, Derrick Favors and Wesley Johnson ahead of him. For one reason or another, in the weeks leading up to the 2010 NBA Draft, to NBA executives, Boogie became the Boogie Man. And teams were scared.
But for those that have followed DeMarcus Cousins closely, especially the Kentucky faithful that grew to love the big man during his one season in Lexington, media reports that he was immature or a troublemaker were always met with something of a shrug. Uk fans were a bit confused because that’s not the Boogie they saw for a year, but it’s not like the label was anything new. It was there when he committed out of high school. It was there when he made himself eligible for the draft. It’s been lingering around him throughout his entire NBA career. In fact, you’d be have trouble finding a story about Cousins, even the ones that shine a positive light, where those whispers aren’t brought up. But aside from a disagreement with then-Kings coach Paul Westphal, who was already spiraling out of control and on his way out the door, the theories haven’t really been supported with a great deal of public evidence. Nonetheless, the dreaded perception of DeMarcus Cousins as a 6’11” hell-raiser in baggy shorts continues to hang over his head like a black cloud – even as he emerged as a contender to represent the United States in London.
So when Jerry Colangelo, the director of USA Basketball and Hall of Famer with four NBA Executive of the Year awards on his mantle, said Cousins had a lot of growing up to do before he was to be included on the US Olympic team, no one questioned him.
Except DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins decided to confront – a word that carries a connotation far more aggressive than the actual interaction –Colangelo about the comments, despite being advised by his agent John Greig not to do so. You know the old adage about it’s better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt? That’s essentially the terror I assume took over Greig’s body as he saw DeMarcus Cousins strutting in Colangelo’s direction. Surely the best way to prove you’re not an immature hot-head isn’t to confront the head of USA Basketball and demand an explanation. Right, DeMarcus? DeMarcus? Are you listening? Get back here!
But the meeting yielded essentially the same understanding that UK fans made peace with a long time ago. There is no understanding, really. Colangelo, according to Cousins, couldn’t really give him an answer as to why he thought he was immature, only saying it was his opinion. It wasn’t an opinion rooted in spending time together. They had never even spoken to each other before the surely awkward encounter Monday. The opinion wasn’t based on conversations with former Kings coach and Cousins nemesis Paul Westphal. Colangelo has no relationship with the man he hired to coach the Phoenix Suns in the early 1990s. Really, the opinion of Jerry Colangelo – the most powerful man in USA Basketball – appears to be formed in a way that would make every second-grader in America proud. The telephone game. And that’s why DeMarcus deserves praise for ignoring the advice of his agent and sticking up for himself in a situation where it was most likely tremendously uncomfortable.
The story could have played out one of two ways. When Colangelo made the comments, Cousins could have ignored him and kept going about his business. It’s the easiest path, for sure, and it’s pretty much the one Cousins has seemed to abide by since he took the floor at Big Blue Madness. Don’t worry about them, DeMarcus. Just focus on you. The problem with that though is that when you ignore it, you allow that label to linger and for people to continue playing the telephone game. In fact, it probably sticks more when it comes from someone as revered in basketball circles as Colangelo. Did you hear? DeMarcus Cousins is a troublemaker and too immature to represent his country. Pass it on!
However, confronting Colangelo for his comments in private gave DeMarcus Cousins a chance to shake the tag, if only for a day or two. He could have pouted and he could have acted out. That’s what an immature player would do. But it takes maturity and maybe a little bit of courage to approach a man with the power and respect of Team USA’s director. And when Colangelo couldn’t produce anything resembling a case for his argument, it was a point for Boogie.
The perception of DeMarcus Cousins isn’t going to change overnight and one incident in Las Vegas isn’t going to sway the public or even the NBA folks that still don’t know what to make of him. After all, Carmelo Anthony complained publicly about his physical play and he nearly came to blows with James Harden on the first day of scrimmaging between Team USA and the Select team that has Cousins as its rock inside. But that public perception can be altered gradually by choosing to be a better teammate and leader, while keeping the faith and support of the people closest to him. The incident with Jerry Colangelo is a baby step in that direction, but it comes precisely at the right time.
The Kings, under new coach Keith Smart, posted their best winning percentage since the 2007-08 season and Cousins became a double-double machine, averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds in the final 21 games of the season. How many NBA centers averaged more than 22 points per game? None. Not even Dwight Howard. How many averaged more than Cousins’ 11.2 rebounds per game? Just two, Howard and Andrew Bynum. So why wasn’t DeMarcus Cousins even considered for Team USA? I think Colangelo’s comments say it all. Perception.
So we’ll have to excuse DeMarcus Cousins for playing hard against Team USA in practice. He clearly has something to prove. So maybe we should give him a little praise or (gasp!) the benefit of the doubt for doing it on the court and not in the media or on Twitter. Because that’s what a mature player would do and that has been Cousins’ focus for several months now. Even when he was questioned about the interaction with Colangelo, Cousins refrained from using words like “unfair”, pouting or playing the role of a victim. That’s what an immature player would do. Instead, he talked about how trying to grow this summer and said things like “I’m trying to play hard” and “I have respect for every veteran here”.
Of course, it’s still a long, uphill road ahead for DeMarcus Cousins to change the perception of him as a player and teammate and he has plenty to prove in that regard next season in Sacramento. But in his quest to mature this summer during the Olympic training camp, Boogie appears to still have a shot at the gold.