HOUSTON — You saw it in small doses on Monday night for Team USA, but in the big picture of the life and times of DeMarcus Cousins, this sequence might demonstrate why he’s such a talented player.
In the middle of the second quarter of Team USA’s easy 110-66 victory over Team Nigeria at the Toyota Center, there was a stretch where Cousins took over.
He pulled down a rebound over Ekene Ibekwe, and the Nigerian got a little miffed at how physical Cousins was.
If this were a regular-season NBA game in December, instead of the final exhibition game before Team USA heads to Rio, Cousins might have shoved Ibekwe and then jumped in his face. The reality of what this game is, an exhibition, gave Cousins pause and a certain calmness. He just smirked when Ibekwe shoved his arm down a little.
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No problem, because Cousins just kept playing, and on the next possession, he took the ball on the wing, drawing the defense toward him — and then sent a pass to the corner, where DeMar DeRozan was waiting.
DeRozan took the pass and stormed to the basket for a left-handed dunk from the baseline. This was Cousins showing his skills. When the night was over, Cousins had 10 points, five rebounds and a game-high plus-34 on the plus/minus column of the box score.
“I’ve coached him before, and he knows international competition,” Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I thought he played really well, and he has played well; he ran well and he really defended well on the perimeter. It’s something unusual for those big guys to be on the perimeter like that; they’re adjusting. And he gives us a low-post threat, and he’ll pass out of it too — very unselfish.”
During the NBA portions of his life, Cousins is seen as someone who has problems with coaches, teammates and referees.
This past season, Cousins averaged a career-high 26.9 points per game and pulled down 11.5 rebounds while shooting 45.1 percent from the field. He was second among centers in real plus/minus at 4.83. However, he led the NBA in technical fouls for the third time in the last four seasons with 17. Cousins’ temperament can be the biggest distraction to the truth of how good of a player he can be.
The next month might be beneficial for Cousins as an opportunity to show the international world just how good of a player and person he is.
“It goes with whatever storyline is going on at the time — if it’s negative, then it’s negative,” Cousins told ESPN. “Then if the story is going to be positive and then I’m a great guy, I can only control what I can control. I know who I am as a person and that’s all that really matters.”
When several American players — including Russell Westbrook, James Harden and LeBron James — were backing out of the Olympic Games to rest their bodies, Cousins raised his hand. He also dealt with health issues this past season, but he wanted to play on the international stage again. In 2014, he was part of the U.S. national team’s FIBA World Cup championship team.
The only stir Cousins has caused this offseason was questioning the Sacramento Kings’ draft. Cousins told The Undefeated’s Marc Spears he was in hot-sculpting class the night of the draft. Whatever you believe, maybe these Olympic Games will bring more positivity from Cousins.
“I love the game,” he said. “I think that’s obvious, and I’m very passionate in what I do. I love my job. If I have a chance to play against some of the top talent in the world or whether it’s against guys around the corner, I’m going to play.”