DeMarcus Cousins Off to a Good Start, On and Off the Court
He already knew this was a no-frills operation, a calculated and caring attempt to maximize his vast potential and minimize all distractions or disasters. So even though the Sacramento Kings' rookie center tallied 16 points and 16 rebounds in Tuesday's win over Phoenix at ARCO Arena, that certainly didn't mean the postgame pow-wow with his people just outside the team's locker room was about to turn into your standard NBA suck-up session.
And his mother -- good game from her boy or not -- wasn't about to share even one drop of the sweat that dripped off of him.
Monique Cousins shoved the 6-foot-11, 270-pounder away as if they were fighting for a rebound minutes after the game, playfully making it clear that the family celebrating would stop there even if the Kings fans were ready to throw a parade after the impressive start to the Tyreke Evans-Cousins era. A most-content Cousins relented, knowing full well that the lady of his life is the one in control of this show.
"Basically our plan is just to make him accountable for everything he does," Monique had explained earlier while sitting in her seat midway up the lower bowl of the Kings' venue and watching the fifth pick of the June draft in action. "Our focus is to set guidelines and standards, and really hold him to higher standards than everybody else is. ... Just to be the best DeMarcus he can be every day."
It's been that way for some time now, with Monique determined to help her man-child make the sort of smooth transition this time around that he couldn't back at Kentucky. He was losing the fight against public perception back then, when a few fiery incidents and few thousand more stone-cold grimaces had led to his reputation as an unpredictable hothead.
But that was before the family learned about this game inside the game, saw firsthand that you either seize the situation yourself or sit helplessly while the scrutiny and judgment overcome you.
"Because he has such a good support group, it's been a faster transition than when he went to Kentucky and there were a lot of unknowns," said Monique, who has been teaming with Cousins' agent, John Greig, in the deliberate effort. "We're educated on the process. More people have told us the dos and don'ts, and it's more informative for him. The more information he gets, the better he'll be."
He couldn't have been much better in his unofficial pro debut, one in which he outplayed one of the league's top young big men -- 7-foot Suns center Robin Lopez -- who had 17 points and six rebounds in 31 minutes. It was a fantasy realized not just for him but for the team's marketing department that has had a rough go selling these Kings in recent years (no playoff appearances since 2006).
For a day, the poster featuring Cousins and Evans that covers an entire side of a downtown skyscraper looked justified. Ditto for the banner with Cousins' name and likeness that spans from one outside corner of the Kings' arena to the other.
Yes, four months into his NBA career, the approach appears to be working. Cousins has not only played well in practices and in the one game (the Kings play again Thursday night against the Clippers), but he seems at ease with his teammates and his new surroundings.
The fans have already seen his softer side, including a group of children who witnessed an impromptu boogie from the player nicknamed "Boogie" in the parking lot after Sunday's open practice. He has been open and entertaining with the media as well, disarming the masses who expected frowns and groans around the clock.
It's not as if he lost his infamous edge, as there was one instance behind the practice facility curtain where the short fuse he's known to have ran out of wick. But the team has thus far seen steady progress, by all in-house accounts. And judging by the fan on Tuesday who yelled "Kick his ass Cousins!" when he shared shoves with the Suns' Dwayne Jones, the fans seem to have embraced his banging, ball-hounding, bad boy ways as well.
But the family plan to keep him level-headed and happy is the integral part of the long-term approach, not to mention a sign that those around Cousins understand the importance of these early stages. Put simply, they don't want the negativity that surrounded him these past few years to return.
"There's no room for error," Monique said. "We're always on our toes about it, because it can happen. But at the same time, we feel like, with our support system, there's enough people around, and we know that we'll put a lid on it before it starts."
Having familiar faces around his new city certainly helps. That includes Otis Hughley, his former coach from LeFlore High School in Mobile, Ala., who was hired as an assistant following summer league in July. And while Cousins' 24-year-old sister, Ryan, was originally planning on living with Cousins, he is instead living with 22-year-old friend and former Kentucky manager, Andrew Rogers.
Greig, who lives in Seattle, and Monique, who lives outside their hometown of Mobile, Ala., plan to spend one week per month in Sacramento as well.
"At the end of the day, the thought was that (Rogers) was better equipped to understand what was going on, having been around the Kentucky program and stuff like that," Greig said. "He's a great kid, really grounded ... DeMarcus really listens to him. He's a great influence. We're all really pleased with it."
The two resounding themes of Cousins' plan, according to all involved, are humility and patience. Being humble means avoiding opulence even if he's due to earn approximately $3.3 million this season. Being patient means remembering that no one expects him to help save the franchise before his 21st birthday, even if a recent injury to expected starter Samuel Dalembert has already sped up his learning curve that they would like to take slow.
"The whole thing, the whole process, with my agent, and my whole circle, was to stay in the gym and to stay humble," Cousins said. "Most of the players are out buying their cars, buying their jewelry or whatever. I was in the gym, driving my rental car, my Ford Explorer ... The whole approach was to stay humble."
Those lessons were being learned over the summer, when Cousins -- who impressed at Las Vegas Summer League in July as well -- spent nearly two months training with Keith Williams in Washington, D.C. Williams' clients, Greig said, have included Steve Francis, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley and Jarrett Jack. It was time well spent, Cousins said, but his housing may have been a bit too humble even for his simple taste.
"They had me staying in terrible hotels, but the whole approach was to stay humble, stay grounded, and keep working," said Cousins, who stayed with Williams at the outset of their time together before transitioning to the hotel. "They've got me in the Motel 6, where room service comes every other day (Greig later clarified that no Motel 6s were involved, but there may have been a Homestead Studio Suites). It was like that. But the approach helped me."
And the Kings, of course, are quite confident that Cousins and Evans will be helping them for years to come.
The second-year guard did little to dispel that notion in the opener, scoring 26 points on 9-of-17 shooting. Kings coach Paul Westphal noted that Cousins must continue to improve his conditioning, but he logged 30 minutes and seemed to produce with ease while doing so. So long as the off-court production proceeds as planned, the big man's big vision might well be realized.
"If not this year, then in two years, I think (Cousins) could be one of the best big men there is in this league," Kings co-owner Joe Maloof said while watching Cousins courtside. "If he continues to work hard like he has been, and he takes it seriously like he does, I don't see another big man of his height, weight and with the skill that he has. He's got it all man."
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