Over the summer, DeMarcus Cousins’ maturity and work ethic were constantly under fire by the media, being labeled a head case even before he was drafted.
Yes, it’s true that the 6’11” 270-pound center did have some problems while attending high school in Alabama and showed some immaturity while at Kentucky, but he can‘t be held responsible in the NBA for something that‘s happened in the past.
It’s funny that a 20-year-old rookie who hasn’t played one game gets treated like he’s the next Ron Artest or Derrick Coleman. He hasn’t played a preseason game, was stellar in the Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 14.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per game, and earned Rookie of the Month honors.
At media day and after the first session of training camp, the Cousins I’ve seen and heard has shown a willingness to learn and a seriousness for the game of basketball.
“I just came in and just try to soak up as much as possible,” Cousins said after the morning session on the first day of training camp. “I was all ears. I wanted to make sure I learned everything, so I could be on my ‘Ps’ and ‘Qs’ when it’s time to play.”
Cousins may be goofy off the court, but he has his game face on when it’s time to play. During a summer league game on July 14, he was jawing with Minnesota Timberwolves center Greg Stiemsma. Rather than let his emotions get the best of him, Cousins channeled that anger and turned it into production on the court, finishing with 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting, 12 rebounds, five assists, four steals and the game-winning jump hook.
“He (Timberwolves assistant coach Reggie Theus) was like ‘We got into his head,’” Cousins said to the Sacramento Bee after the game. “I was like thank you coach, I’m going to kill you this half. And after the game I was like told you I was going to kill you this half. That’s all that was.”
He showcased a variety of skills: scoring in the post, from the perimeter rebounding, defending, passing and running the floor. Ironically, the Timberwolves passed on Cousins in favor of Wesley Johnson, a move they may regret.
Cousins has already taken the time to learn from a proven veteran in Samuel Dalembert, a defensive center who was acquired by the Kings over the summer. “Sam is a great teacher,” he said. “Sam’s been talking to me the whole time. Him being on the team, I know that’s going to help me out a lot. He’s an incredible defender.”
He likes the make-up of the rest of the team as well. “It’s a great group of guys,” he said. “Everybody gets along. Very family-oriented. So far, so good.”
Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Tyreke Evans, was impressed by Cousins’ work ethic before camp even started. “He’s a great big man,” Evans said. “He takes his time. He’s young, but at the same time he loves to play the game. He’s a hard worker and I’m going to enjoy playing with him this season.”
Both Evans and Cousins shared the same head coach, John Calipari, in college. Evans went to the University of Memphis from 2008-2009. Calipari left for the University of Kentucky the next season, where Cousins played.
Fellow rookie big man Hassan Whiteside has played against Cousins since high school and is happy to share the same team. “All my teammates, they like to joke around,” he said during media day. “They like to laugh and just have fun, like DeMarcus always comes over to my house, playing Madden. We’re always playing video games and just laughing.”
Barring injury, on October 5, Kings fans will get the opportunity to see Cousins play against the Phoenix Suns, and it’s a day he’s anxiously looking forward to. “I’m very ready,” he said at media day. “At the same time I‘m nervous. It’s my first NBA game.”
Cousins has not been afraid to say that he wants to win the Rookie of the Year award and wants to make the playoffs in a still rugged Western Conference. He’ll be competing against former Kentucky teammate and Washington Wizards point guard John Wall and Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin.
“I want to be the Rookie of the Year,” he said in the Sacramento Bee. “I didn’t get a chance to be the Player of the Year in college. I need my own individual award. I want mine.”
Cousins has shown no signs of being a head case like many critics have labeled him throughout the offseason. Maybe he can put those thoughts to rest with a good season.
He seems to be a guy who likes to have fun on the side, but when it comes to basketball, he’s a student of the game who gets down to business.