John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins have gone through some similar circumstances this season. The good friends and former Kentucky teammates both started out poorly. They have seen their first NBA coaches fired and replaced by guys who won national championships at Indiana. They have picked up their play in recent weeks but remain on teams that rank near the bottom of their respective conferences.
It hasn’t been the easiest transition to the NBA for either player since they left Kentucky after one season, as both Wall and Cousins have had to endure losing at a level for which neither could’ve prepared.
“We talk, just about every other day, if not every day, it’s every other day,” Wall said, as the Wizards prepare to face Cousins and the Sacramento Kings for the only time this season. “Just wish each other to keep getting better and do the best they can.”
Wall said his former Wildcats teammates, including Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe, have helped him deal with the frustration that comes with playing for an unsuccessful team.
“It makes it a lot easier,” Wall said. “It’s tough for Eric. Eric been hurt most of the year and he didn’t lose a coach. But we still all talk and see what each other are doing. You can tell by looking at each other’s face when something ain’t going right. So, we ask each other and joke about it. Somebody will say they are not upset, but we know the real side to the story.”
Wall couldn’t hide his disenchantment early in the season, but he appears to have broken out of his funk, as he is averaging 18.7 points, 7.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds in his past 21 games. Coach Randy Wittman, who won a title with the Hoosiers in 1981, said Wall is making progress and getting a better grasp of the new uptempo style.
“He’s learning how we want to play, the pace that we want to play at,” Wittman said. “I thought the last two games we didn’t have the pace, but he’s getting an understanding of how we have to play and how he has to play.”
Cousins is averaging 19 points and 11.5 rebounds this month and has been playing at a higher level since Keith Smart replaced Paul Westphal last month. Westphal was dismissed after a public dispute that included Cousins being suspended for allegedly demanding a trade. The Wizards were one of several teams to contact the Kings afterward, but Sacramento (10-22) made it clear that it wasn’t moving Cousins.
Wall will have to settle for playing with Cousins on Team Chuck in the Rising Star Challenge on Friday in Orlando.
“It’s always great playing with him,” Wall said. “Last year, it was me, him and Eric. We kind of gave the ball to each other, forgot everybody else. That’s how it goes sometimes. It’s great to have another person like that, somebody you can pass it to and know can finish either way, making jump shots or being a presence on the block. It’s fun, just to have a great weekend with each other and it’s a time to break from the season and have some fun for a couple of days and get back to the schedule after that.”
Wall and Cousins have faced each other only once in the NBA, as the Wizards pulled out an incredible 136-133 overtime victory with Nick Young scoring a career-high 43 points. Wall had 22 points and nine assists in the game and had the sit the final three minutes with leg cramps. He knows Cousins will be coming for payback and to make up for a poor game on Tuesday in Miami, where he scored just nine points.
“He’s having a great start of February,” Wall said. “He’s a load on the low post, so it’s tough to guard him and he can pass at the same time. We both went through tough times losing a coach, but you’ve just got to mature and that’s a part of the business side of the NBA and you’ve just got to keep working on your game and trying to help your team win.”