DeMarcus Cousins has had enough run-ins with coaches, teammates, referees, opposing players and team broadcasters to know that his reputation for trouble comes before his immense talents on the court.
That history, and an initially poor first impression with Team USA – USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo suggested that Cousins needed to mature as a member of the Select Team in 2012 – led to speculation that he wouldn’t get the chance to represent the country at the FIBA World Cup in Spain.
But Cousins’s confidence in his abilities and his chances was unwavering, even after suffering a bone bruise in his right knee last month in Chicago. And now, Cousins is optimistic that the next few weeks in Spain can help him improve as a player and that more will realize that his past problems are the result of being overly passionate and nothing more.
“I mean, people are going to say what they say. If you don’t understand what I’m out here to do every night, then you’re not really trying to understand,” Cousins said recently. “My main purpose every night is to win a game. If you can’t accept that, then say what you got to say.”
Through the first two games of the tournament, Cousins has shown why Colangelo and Coach Mike Krzyzewski decided to go with more size on its 12-man roster despite a glut in perimeter talent – and how he has emerged as Anthony Davis’s primary backup ahead of Mason Plumlee and Andre Drummond. The 6-foot-11 Cousins had nine points and 10 rebounds in just 16 minutes in Team USA’s 59-point victory over Finland and scored 11 points in 13 minutes of Sunday’s 98-77 win over Turkey. Team USA will return to action on Tuesday against New Zealand.
Krzyzewski had never fielded a national team with four players at least 6-10 but Cousins is the most skilled one-on-one player in the low post and his physical style and imposing size is expected to aid the Americans should they meet up with host and tournament co-favorite Spain – which features Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka – in the elimination round.
“The thing is, it’s not about me showing what I can do. They know what I can do,” Cousins said of the coaching staff. “It’s just about learning the whole scheme of what they’re trying to do. The injury kind of set me back with learning the scheme but I’m trying to learn it on the fly and learn it as fast as possible. It’s been a lot on my plate.”
When he returns to Sacramento this season, Cousins will enter the first year of a four-year, $62 million extension and wants to provide more than just gaudy statistics. Cousins averaged 22.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists last season but Kings failed to win at least 30 games for the sixth consecutive season.
“I’m so excited,” Cousins said. “That’s the main reason I wanted to be a part of this team. I’m back and be able to teach the other guys on my [NBA] team things that I’ve learned overseas. It’s going to help me become a better leader, become a better teammate. Take advantage of it every way I can.”