DeMarcus Cousins has been open about his aspirations of representing the United States in the Olympics. On Monday, the Kings center moved closer to realizing that goal.
Cousins and Kings forward Rudy Gay were among the 30 finalists announced by USA Basketball for its 2016 Olympic roster. The list will be condensed to a 12-man roster that will compete at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in August.
“It’s always an honor to play for the USA teams; it’s not a chance everybody gets,” Cousins said. “Hopefully I’ll make the team and I’m in Rio this summer.”
Cousins and Gay have experience with USA Basketball. Both played on the 2014 FIBA World Cup team that won the gold medal in Spain and participated in Team USA’s minicamp in Las Vegas last summer.
“It’s good to still be in the running,” Gay said after practice Monday. “There’s a lot of great players that aren’t on that list. It’s just good to be noticed.”
The defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors have five finalists, followed by the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Clippers with three each. Three-time Olympic medalists LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are among nine finalists who played for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team that won a gold medal in London.
Team USA officials face a daunting task paring the list. Cousins, who at 25 is having one of his best seasons and entering his physical prime, figures to have a strong case for making the team but will vie with fellow centers Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Dwight Howard.
During the 2012 Olympics, Team USA had just one “true” center, Tyson Chandler, and favored the versatile skills of some hybrid bigs over pure size in the frontcourt. The strategy paid off as the U.S. team went undefeated in London, beating Spain to repeat as champion.
“Obviously selecting the official roster of 12 players for the Olympics in 2016 will be a very, very difficult process,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said in a statement. “As has been the case with past USA Basketball teams, the goal once again is to select the very best team possible to represent the United States.”
Cousins, the only player in the NBA’s top five in points and rebounds per game, has expanded his offensive repertoire this season to include the three-point shot. He said Team USA’s emphasis on versatility “just gives the team different looks. … With so many different types of looks overseas, you can find any type of way to match up with a team or put them at a disadvantage.”
Still, Cousins added: “You always need bigs. No matter how much the game changes, you always need bigs.”
Cousins, who helped Team USA defeat Serbia in the final of the 2014 FIBA World Cup, said his biggest takeaway from his experiences in international competition has been watching some of the NBA’s biggest stars “sacrifice” personal numbers and accolades toward a common goal of winning.
“It’s not about going out there and scoring 30 (points),” Cousins said. “It’s about coming together and winning a gold medal, representing your country. It’s bigger than just going out there trying to score buckets.”
Gay, who played on the 2010 FIBA World Cup-winning team and has the fourth-most international games played among this year’s Olympic finalists, said the level of international competition in basketball is “at an all-time high.”
Kings coach George Karl echoed that sentiment but also lauded Team USA leaders for restoring the Olympics as a priority for the NBA’s elite.
“I think it’s really great that our best players are going to represent us,” Karl said. “In (1992) it was (the case); maybe ’96 it was. But after that, I think the players thought it was more of an All-Star game than a responsibility. And now, it’s a responsibility.”
Finalists for the U.S. men’s basketball team for the 2016 Summer Olympics:
- LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
- Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
- Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors
- Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
- Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
- Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
- DeMarcus Cousins, Kings
- Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
- Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
- DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
- Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
- Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
- Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets
- Rudy Gay, Kings
- Paul George, Indiana Pacers
- Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
- Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
- James Harden, Houston Rockets
- Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
- Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
- Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
- Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
- LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
- DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
- Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
- Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
- Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
- Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
- John Wall, Washington Wizards
- Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder