For about the amount of time it takes DeMarcus Cousins to touch the rim, he wishes he was in New Orleans this weekend, wearing his old blue and white sweats, giving it the old college try.
His Kentucky Wildcats are in the Final Four. The projected No. 1 draft pick, Anthony Davis, anchors the frontline. And, if Cousins had stayed in school instead of joining the trend of one-and-done NBA lottery prospects in 2010, his nightmarish rookie season would have been nothing more than a bad dream.
"That's all true," Cousins, the Kings second-year center, said the other night. "But I had to take care of my family. That was important to me, so there are no regrets. (Going pro) was going to happen sooner or later, and coming into the situation I did you can't prepare. It's like nothing you have ever experienced. You just have to do it and believe there's a reason for everything."
So how is Cousins doing in the closing weeks of season No. 2?
Not bad for someone portrayed as a talented knucklehead before the 2010 draft, who struggled with his conditioning and his former head coach, and who was excoriated again by the national media when Paul Westphal was ousted after a 2-5 start.
The Kings' record still stinks and another lottery awaits, but the DeMarcus Makeover is ongoing at a rapid pace emotionally, physically, intellectually, statistically.
Cousins ranks fourth in the league in rebounding, leads the Kings in double doubles, and almost nightly solidifies his evolving reputation as the team's major talent and an emerging, maturing star.
The steals, the passes, the jumpers. The basketball IQ and instincts. The improving post game. The terrific hands that enable him to collect loose balls and pry rebounds from bigger, quicker opponents. The decline in silly turnovers and fits of temper with coaches and teammates.
The charismatic Cousins is a mind-body experience like few others, and it all begins with that naturally thick, 6-foot-11, 270-pound frame. While he shares both Vlade Divac's aversion to the weight room and a fear that becoming too muscular inhibits flexibility not an unreasonable concern given conflicting philosophies within the league his conditioning remains the most significant factor in his development.
Much of the credit belongs to coach Keith Smart, who dumped Westphal's dreadful one-on-one offense and implemented a faster tempo that forces players to run the floor and encourages them to share the ball. But Cousins, 21, is making a serious effort to get into better shape, avoid foul trouble so he can stay on the court for extended minutes and change his diet.
He eats sushi daily and tries to pass up carbs for a healthier sampling of vegetables, fish and chicken.
This resulting lightness is something of a revelation. He proudly jokes that his stylishly baggy jeans are so loose that he needs to begin downsizing and start shopping for new clothes.
"I can't even tell you how much weight I've dropped since last year," said Cousins, who worked with a personal trainer throughout the lockout. "I just know that my body looks and feels different."
And the head how does that feel? How does someone barely out of his teens morph from major headache under Westphal to the only untouchable King?
Cousins, who averaged just 23 minutes at Kentucky, still battles fatigue and has mini-slumps. He also has nights when he displays his frustration too openly, almost ensuring he won't catch a break from the referees. His bruising, below-rim style and aggressiveness are attention getters to begin with; the frowns, the head shakes, the complaints are too frequent, too much.
"DeMarcus has his moments," said Smart, nodding, smiling, "but now that I've been around him, it's like, 'Wow, he's not guy that you hear about.' He's got a great heart and a tremendous drive to win. I'm a huge energy guy, and I'd rather have a player who is lively and competes every night than somebody I have to push all the time. Give me two years with that young man, and then let's take another photo."
Cousins' mother, Monique, visiting from Mobile, Ala., seems almost awed by her son's progress. She tries not to baby her big baby, who has been a magnet since his early teens because of his size and talent, and because the camera loves his expressive demeanor. (A few Spurs coaches cracked up Wednesday when Cousins erupted after an obvious mugging under the basket.)
"He has a better understanding of the NBA now," Monique said, "and a lot of support. The whole organization. More feedback. More encouragement. They talk to him all the time.
"The thing about DeMarcus he was always bigger than all the other kids. It was the mental part that had to catch up."
This time, with this kid, the Kings are making demands and trying not to repeat the mistakes made with Tyreke Evans. Evans is a unique, valuable piece. Cousins is the player to build around, to complement with shooters and playmakers.
Had he stayed at Kentucky, he would be only a junior, prepping for today's NCAA semifinal. He is still trying to figure this out, still just a kid.