On the U.S. basketball team, the much-maligned DeMarcus Cousins gets a chance to redeem himself. So far, he’s succeeding admirably.
Has the reputation of a hard-to-educate man: DeMarcus Cousins. Picture: ap
Who knows the eternally positive team spirit mantra of Mike Krzyzewski, should not have been surprised about the praise of the coach of the US basketball selection. "We’re just incredibly pleased with him," the 67-year-old has been repeating consistently for weeks. "We appreciate his attitude, his passion, his commitment – and his talent." The one so lauded is DeMarcus Cousins, 24-year-old center from the Sacramento Kings – and arguably "Coach K’s" most special assignment at this World Basketball Championships. Krzyzewski has traveled to Spain for the tournament with the youngest selection of NBA players ever, due in part to many cancellations by big stars.
With his four years of NBA experience, Cousins is therefore already one of the more experienced players. Only at first glance, however, does it seem obvious why this 2.11-meter, 125-kilogram cabinet is standing there on the court. He is supposed to be a rook in the battle, alternating with Anthony Davis, who excelled in the first games against Finland and Turkey – especially in view of a possible duel with the Spaniards, who are excellently manned at the center position.
But the mission is another: "DMC" should grow up – and the honorable task of presenting his country on the field should help him to do so. Cousins is regarded as highly talented, and his playing class and potential are undisputed. In the past season, the former college star averaged 22.7 points and 11.7 rebounds for Sacramento, making him one of the best players in the NBA in both categories. The 2.9 assists per game are a first-class value for a player under the basket.
But Cousins still has the reputation of being difficult to train, thanks to various misbehaviors. The temperamental stud has regularly been among the league’s players with the most warnings, has been suspended several times, and was considered a Kings killer after being fired by a Kings coach. In 2012/13, he confronted ex-player and TV commentator Sean Elliott while still on the court after a game for harshly criticizing him.
Apology after two years
U.S. Basketball chief Jerry Colangelo remarked even then, "He better grow up." Also legendary is a scene from last winter when Cousins kept his Kings teammates from the obligatory postgame handshake with California rivals the Los Angeles Clippers. "I simply cannot respect unfair players who do everything to win," he declared afterwards. Small outbursts that were gratefully rehashed by the tabloids. Strong performances on the parquet became almost a minor matter.
In 2014, however, now everything should be better. "I was surprised when he suddenly came to me and apologized," remarked an astonished Elliott when Cousins apologized before a game in March for his failure of almost two years ago. "It was very obvious that DeMarcus meant it, and I really appreciate that." The reformed man himself knows his opportunity: "I want to be a role model, to belong," he says now. "I talk to my mother about it all the time: Everything I have achieved so far, I had to work hard for. Nothing was given to me. I want people to be able to point to me and say, ‘He made it under the most adverse conditions, I can do that too.’"
Currently, Cousins is Team USA’s first substitute for Davis and performed decently in his limited minutes. "I’m learning so incredibly much, the cohesion on the squad is fantastic, and I want to help the team any way I can." Sounds a lot like Mike Krzyzewski.