HECTOR AMEZCUA / hamezcua@sacbee.com

DeMarcus Cousins has received an invitation from USA Basketball to join the Select team of young NBA stars who will train with the 2012 U.S. Olympic squad.

Ailene Voisin: Kings' Cousins eyes Olympic shot

Published: Wednesday, May. 2, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, May. 3, 2012 - 9:28 am

DeMarcus Cousins wants to play for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, but barring another series of freakish injuries to more established frontcourt stars, that isn't going to happen.

But in two years? The Kings' center should be on Team USA's World Championship squad.

In four years? Assuming USA Basketball doesn't buckle under pressure from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and change the rules, restricting national team participation to collegians, Cousins should anchor the 2016 Olympic effort.

In the more immediate future, USA Basketball czar Jerry Colangelo is inviting Cousins to join the Select team of young NBA stars who will train with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the other 2012 Olympians in July and then form the nucleus of future national teams.

Cousins wanted more. He wanted to be on the Olympic team now.

"We're going to add another one or two players to our (finalist) list," Colangelo said Tuesday from Las Vegas. "Cousins will not be one of them. But we've been told he is very interested in playing with the Select team, and that will get him in the cycle for (future) teams."

After everything that has transpired in Cousins' brief but eventful NBA career, just being included in the Team USA conversation is a coup. Cousins should forget about Kings and Queens and the London Bridge, and concern himself with dominating the training sessions in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.

"Statistically, you can easily make the argument that DeMarcus is in the group of the top 20 players already," said John Greig, Cousins' agent. "But it's so easy to pencil him in, saying this is who he is. I do think the (perception) is changing, though."

Greig's right. It is. And if injuries continue crippling the 2012 squad? U.S. centers are precious and few, and very few are as gifted or as physical or durable as Cousins.

With Dwight Howard unavailable because of a back injury, the finalists list includes one true center – Tyson Chandler. Andrew Bynum isn't interested.

So never say never.

OK, this time last year we could have said never. This time last year, Cousins was coming off a volatile rookie season that included repeated verbal spats with former coach Paul Westphal, too many instances when he stood and watched opponents sprint downcourt, and far too many times when his body language was more of a downer than his poor conditioning.

To his credit, though, Cousins, 21, retreated to the gym during the summer and arrived at training camp in far better shape. He lost much of his baby fat and started losing the attitude. When Westphal issued what team officials refer to as a "him or me" ultimatum seven games into the season, the organization's response was a no-brainer; Keith Smart took over and supervised a serious Cousins growth spurt that led to averages of 18.1 points and 11 rebounds, including a league-leading 4.1 on the offensive end. He progressed in virtually every facet of his game and made dramatic strides in both demeanor and conditioning.

"The main thing is to get him better at finishing around the rim," Smart said, "and that's a matter of being in good enough shape to fight through that fatigue."

Kings assistant Clifford Ray, who worked with Howard in Orlando, addressed Cousins' other most obvious issue: maintaining his composure.

"DeMarcus needs to develop patience with his teammates and with the referees," Ray said. "When he gets frustrated, he just has to keep playing. Then the other things – setting better screens, putting his body in position to block shots – will come easier. But from what I heard (about Cousins) compared to what I've seen since Keith brought me in? You kidding me? Great improvement. You see it. We all see it. He has talents that don't come around very often."

All of which is why Cousins should swallow his disappointment and go to Las Vegas and Washington, where he can re-introduce himself as a fiercely competitive and increasingly appealing presence.

Greig said he was "95 percent sure" Cousins would accept despite his disappointment and the disruptions to his summer plans. According to Greig, Cousins took a weekend breather when the season ended and then called with one question: "When are we getting started?"

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