Passing on DeMarcus Cousins a King-Sized Mistake, Says Calipari
The former Kentucky forward said Wednesday that he considers himself the best talent of this crop, a title earned by Tyreke Evans for the 2009-10 class when he won the Rookie of the Year award. Evans was taken fourth overall out of Memphis, and league sources continue to indicate that the Kings will select Cousins with the fifth pick in Thursday's NBA Draft so long as he's there.
It's expected he will be, as the likely order -- according to sources -- is Kentucky's John Wall (Washington), Ohio State's Evan Turner (Philadelphia), and a combination of Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors and Syracuse's Wesley Johnson to New Jersey and Minnesota, respectively. And as Kentucky coach John Calipari sees it, even going fifth isn't high enough based on the sort of future he sees Cousins having.
"People are making a big-time mistake on this kid," Calipari told FanHouse by phone leading up to the draft. "I've never coached a player who has come as far as fast as he did. ... Maturity-wise, basketball-wise, he has got to grow there, but he has come a long way."
No player in the draft has been as debated as Cousins, who has faced questions about his maturity, work ethic and sometimes-fiery temper for years leading up to this day. But his talent has always prevailed, with the 6-foot-11, 289-pounder an imposing presence defensively and a deft post player and shooter on the offensive end.
He was college basketball's most productive per-minute player last year, averaging 15.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in just 23.5 minutes per game. And while the Kings recently traded for Philadelphia center Samuel Dalembert, the notion of coupling him and Cousins with fourth-year forward Carl Landry and third-year forward Jason Thompson would be a drastic improvement in length and toughness for the Kings' woeful frontline.
What's more, it would help Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie from having to take an I-told-you-so phone call from Calipari if his projections play out.
"In my opinion, he should be a top three pick," said Calipari, who coached Evans at Memphis and was consulted by the Kings regarding his former players both then and now. "He's not even close to how good he can be."
Calipari acknowledges the challenges that come with Cousins, like the time he sat down on the side of the court during a mandated conditioning test early in his freshman year.
"I told him, 'You can sit and watch, but do you understand that if you can't make it through conditioning then you can't be a starter?'" Calipari said. "Then all of a sudden, he started breaking barriers."
Cousins' conditioning remains a hot topic, as his latest body fat, according to a league source, is nearly 20 percent. But the same source insisted that "he doesn't look fat," and spoke positively about his play in recent workouts.
Calipari downplayed the times when he jawed with the 19-year-old courtside, too, saying it was part of the tough love approach the growing man still needs.
"I coached him like he was my son, and he needs that," he said. "In fact, he and my (13-year-old) son (Brad) would play video games and I'd say (to Cousins), 'You guys are the same age.' He's one of those kids that needs to be hugged, loved. Don't act like he's a grown man. He's a growing man."
If Cousins goes to Sacramento as expected, that will be the challenge for second-year coach Paul Westphal. He took more of the soft love approach with Evans, who went from Calipari's gruff ways to Westphal's entrusting, sometimes enabling, style.
The Kings, who so badly need to expedite progress after winning 17 and 25 games in the last two seasons, are confident they can help Cousins' continued growth while he helps their turnaround. The way it's looking, that pairing is about to begin. And as they, Cousins, and Calipari see it, the pick should be another good one.
"This (negativity around him) is so ridiculous and off-base," Calipari said. "If anybody says they're not taking him because of that, they're making a huge, huge mistake."