Among the 28 players at USA Basketball’s minicamp Monday at the Mendenhall Center, none drew a larger media crowd than DeMarcus Cousins.
The Sacramento Kings’ 6-foot-11-inch center hopes to be the answer to Team USA’s big-man concerns going into the 2014 FIBA World Cup tournament in Spain. For Cousins, 22, a three-year veteran who has been criticized for immaturity, it’s a career-altering opportunity to join basketball’s most exclusive club, get better as a player and grow as a person.
“I’m trying to be the best big man here — simple,” Cousins said after Team USA’s initial two-hour practice. “What was said in the past is just that — in the past. It’s a new year and a fresh start.”
Cousins reportedly displayed a bad attitude last year while playing for the USA Select squad that scrimmaged the 2012 Olympic team in Las Vegas in advance of the London Games. However, reports of a rift between Cousins and USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo were greatly exaggerated, Colangelo said.
Colangelo said he met with Cousins prior to the June 12 announcement of the minicamp roster, and said he was satisfied with Cousins’ response. Nothing Colangelo said Monday changed his mind.
“(Cousins) came in with a great attitude. He worked real hard and he had a good practice. But so did a lot of people,” Colangelo said. “There was a little bit of a misunderstanding in the media over what happened with him and that was a little bit unfortunate. In an attempt to bring it to a close, I said, ‘Let’s bring this to a close and move on with our lives.’
“Why not give him a second chance? Everyone is deserving of a second chance.”
Cousins said: “What was said between us wasn’t as bad as it was. It got blown out of proportion. But I’m excited to be back and show what I can do.”
The coaching staff knows what Cousins can do. That is, score and defend in the low post, shoot with range and rebound. He has the talent to dominate, averaging 16.3 points and 9.8 rebounds over his first three seasons with the Kings, one of the NBA’s worst teams.
At the minicamp, away from the chaos and frustration in Sacramento, Cousins might be able to relax and blossom while playing alongside other great players.
“I’m maturing with each season but I also know I have to take responsibility for what I do,” he said. “I’m coming in here trying to make the best of this opportunity.”
John Calipari, who coached Cousins during his one collegiate season at Kentucky in 2009-10, said Cousins can be the answer to Team’s USA’s low-post needs.
“It has nothing to do with talent,” Calipari said. “He can be as great as he wants to be. It’s about maturity and accepting responsibility and I believe being here will be great for DeMarcus.
“I remember the year I coached him and I yelled at him all the time. My wife said to me, ‘Why are you always yelling at DeMarcus?’ and I said, ‘Because he needed it.’ But he’s got a real gift few players have. He’s naturally talented. The game comes so easy to him. We keep forgetting he’s still young. He’s been his own worst enemy at times. But he’ll mature.”
Cousins will get a fresh start with the Kings as Mike Malone becomes the third coach he will have played for. While the Kings try to remake themselves with new management, a new arena and new players, Cousins can spend this week focusing on as stable a situation as exists in basketball playing for Mike Krzyzewski.
“It’s a new era and I want to be with the Kings,” he said. “But right now I’m just focused on playing here (with Team USA) and fitting in.”
A very mature thing to say.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.