DeMarcus Cousins is presented with a golden opportunity. For several reasons that include injuries to other candidates, his steadfast commitment to USA Basketball and his prodigious abilities, the Kings’ All-Star center will be named to the U.S. Olympic basketball team later this month.
Anyone within shouting distance of a hoop and a net knew this was coming.
Cousins might not be USA Basketball’s favorite big man – that would be the injured Anthony Davis – but he is coming off his best season and essentially forced his way onto the roster. He participated in four consecutive training camps, never wavered in his desire to compete for his country, and when Davis got into foul trouble in the finale of the 2014 FIBA World Cup, Cousins controlled the interior with his blocks, his rebounds, his defense.
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Besides, USA Basketball needs Cousins as much as Cousins needs Rio.
(Assistant coach Tom Thibodeau) said DeMarcus is in great shape. He’s been working out for a month. There was no indication of any problem with his feet.
USA basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo
So what is he going to do about it? Does he capitalize on a relationship with USAB officials that has evolved from wary to curious to symbiotic, and emerge as an enduring, significant presence on the global Olympic stage? Does he improve his conditioning and behave in a manner that reshapes his image? Or does he carry on with business as usual, which means amassing points and rebounds at an impressive rate, while too frequently erupting at referees or cursing out coaches and general managers in his locker room?
USAB committee members aren’t exactly holding their collective breaths, but they won’t exhale until that gold medal has been secured, either. Similar to the way the team’s assistants and trainers monitored Charles Barkley during the 1992 Barcelona Games, implementing basketball’s version of the witness protection program, Cousins will seldom be out of sight.
Olympic assistant Tom Thibodeau already has attended Cousins’ personal training sessions in Las Vegas, and initial reports are encouraging.
“Thibs said DeMarcus is in great shape,” USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo said Saturday. “He’s been working out for a month. There was no indication of any problem with his feet.”
Although Colangelo refused to confirm Cousins’ presence on the roster that will be announced June 27, just read between the lines – heck, just read the news the past several months – and it’s apparent Boogie is in. (Sources also have confirmed that Cousins has been advised to pack for the trip.)
Circumstances have changed. Injuries have forced the withdrawal of forward/centers Davis, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, reducing the list of frontcourt candidates to Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard, Kenneth Faried and Kevin Love. Again, this is not breaking news. While Jordan is a dominant rebounder and rim protector, Cousins clobbers the competition because his superior versatility is better suited for the international game.
Of greater concern is the ongoing uncertainty among guards and wing players. Two-time MVP Stephen Curry (knee and ankle), Chris Paul (hand) and John Wall (knee) are unavailable because of injuries, and within the last few days, James Harden and Russell Westbrook removed themselves from consideration, citing personal reasons.
The medical elephant in the room, of course, is whether players are dropping out or avoiding Brazil because of the Zika virus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes the outbreak as “dynamic” and has issued detailed travel warnings and recommendations, particularly for pregnant women or those hoping to conceive. Colangelo said he is providing the players with frequent medical updates and continuing to scrutinize the team’s accommodations.
We have our rules and regulations, and we expect all of our players to participate in (practices and media sessions). That has never been an issue.
USA basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo, asked about DeMarcus Cousins’ attitude
“We’re pleased with our housing situation,” he continued, “and from what I’m being advised, the only real vulnerable group is pregnant women. Even with the news (Friday about Harden and Westbrook), I have not been told by anyone that (Zika) is an issue. Westbrook cited personal reasons, and I believe he’s getting married this summer. The reason the national team exists is because things happen beyond your control, like injuries, contracts, personal situations. But we think we have a pretty good read on everyone moving forward, and if other players withdraw, we have some young guys who are chomping at the bit.”
So far, Kevin Durant is still listed among available candidates. Same for Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George, etc. LeBron James has tabled his decision until after the NBA Finals, and to avoid distractions, Colangelo has stayed away from Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Love.
But Cousins is one of those not-so-young guys champing at the bit. He would be an Olympian if it meant taking a spaceship to Mars. He has spent the last few summers striving to overcome a poor first impression and his well-chronicled conditioning issues. Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s teams play with pace, and Cousins, as we all know by now, always seems to be playing catch-up.
As for concerns about Cousins’ mood swings and on-court outbursts, Colangelo said, “We have our rules and regulations, and we expect all of our players to participate in (practices and media sessions). That has never been an issue.”
So what is DeMarcus going to do? Does he go for the gold and come back with a star on his forehead? Does he charm Rio the way Barkley charmed Barcelona? Cousins can certainly help the Olympic team, and if he’s interested and engaged enough, the Olympic experience can surely help him.
- When: Aug. 5-21
- Where: Rio de Janeiro
- Men’s basketball: 12 teams with 12-player rosters; competition begins Aug. 6; semifinals are Aug. 19; gold-medal game is Aug. 21
- Team USA exhibitions: July 22 vs. Argentina, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas; July 24 vs. China, Staples Center, Los Angeles; July 26 vs. China, Oracle Arena, Oakland; July 29 vs. Venezuela, United Center, Chicago; Aug. 1 vs. Nigeria, Toyota Center, Houston