LAS VEGAS DeMarcus Cousins showed me something Monday. No, he showed me a lot. Presented with an opportunity to say something imprudent and disrespectful and, yes, stupid and immature, the Kings center instead responded like an adult.
He asked questions. He wanted explanations. Instead of pulling the woe-is-me card or mentioning that 2012 is a tight political year, he bit his lip for about 36 hours and then went directly (and calmly) to the source. He wanted to know specifically why USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo characterized him as "immature" and "with a long way to go" during a teleconference with reporters Saturday.
"I actually just had a conversation with (Colangelo)," Cousins revealed after Monday's scrimmage between the Select Team and members of the recently named U.S. Olympic squad. "I asked him, 'How was I being immature?' He never really gave me an answer. I mean, I really wanted to know. I took offense to it. It definitely bothered me."
The mini-controversy and that's what this is began when Cousins stepped onto the practice court Friday and became too physical for his own good. Or, according to some of the USA Basketball types who watched the part of the session closed to the media, too physical and too aggressive for the good of the team.
Too much fouling. Too much trash-talking. Too much complaining about favoritism (edge, Olympians) to the referees. Too many frowns, head shakes and frustrated hand flips.
Too much of the old Cousins? I don't know about that. You say dribble, I say pass. Perceptions aren't always reality.
Cousins arrived for training camp accompanied by the familiar baggage and a seemingly equal number of advocates and detractors. And you actually can count him among those who argue he has room to grow and pounds to lose, and the need to chill when situations become overheated.
But the basketball world needs to stop staring at Cousins looking at the rugged 6-foot-11, 270-pound frame and immediately assuming the worst.
It's OK to acknowledge he has made significant progress, that he didn't average 18.1 points and 11.0 rebounds last season because he's an emotional wreck or a physical stiff, and that he deserved to be included on the Select Team and placed in the pool of candidates for future national teams.
This is not a low-IQ player, which is another reason coach Keith Smart is Cousins' most enthusiastic cheerleader, and he spent most of the offeason training in Sacramento for this very Select Team appearance.
The Kings types in general even those who once concurred with ex-coach Paul Westphal's unflattering opinion have come to understand this about their big man: They need not be afraid. You can actually talk to him. You can actually coach him. As his mother, Monique, said of her son, he is equal parts teddy bear and excessively ferocious competitor.
On Monday, Colangelo learned Cousins won't bare fangs when you tell him to calm down.
"Everything's cool," Colangelo said when reached later in the day. "He wanted an explanation. I was trying to be more encouraging than anything else."
The USA Basketball czar also admitted he felt ill when asked about Cousins in the late-afternoon teleconference Saturday and Monday still didn't feel good. So let's just assume the famously poised and polished basketball executive had a bad day. It happens even to those of us who don't spend our waking hours dreading and conspiring against another bronze medal and 2004 Athens Games.
Nonetheless, while there was virtually no chance Cousins was going to be added to an experienced, athletic but undersized roster that reputation thing again in yet another dramatic Kings-Lakers twist, Kobe Bryant unintentionally stoked the debate by lobbying Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski for Cousins' inclusion.
"European basketball is extremely physical," Bryant noted during Saturday's press gathering, "and he (Cousins) brings a physicality that really changes the energy of the game. He's not afraid to upset guys, and he kind of makes the game uncomfortable."
So who's uncomfortable now? It's definitely not Cousins. When he sat and discussed the matter with a handful of reporters after practice, a backpack slung around his massive shoulders, he was impassioned and thoughtful, insightful and honest, and intent on finishing with a positive spin.
In that regard, he really doesn't have to say much. Others are speaking up. Several NBA types told me Cousins toned down his approach after Friday's session and has been among the most impressive of the younger players. Select Team coach Jay Triano added that Cousins "has gotten better every single day."
And finally, there was another offering from Kobe on Monday: "I like DeMarcus a lot. He's extremely talented. The biggest thing for him is just maintaining that poise and being able to find that balance between being aggressive and demonstrative. That first day was hard on a lot of guys. It was an avalanche. (But) when he finds that balance, the sky's the limit for him."