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Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins eagerly embraces Olympic opportunity

DeMarcus Cousins had mixed emotions over his ample time to prepare for his Olympic debut.

He welcomed the chance to take care of nagging injuries and get into prime condition. But he wished he could have done that after playing in the postseason, something he hasn’t experienced in six seasons with the Kings.

Cousins is a two-time All-Star but the lone Team USA member without playoff experience. So the Olympics will serve as his showcase not only before NBA fans but a worldwide audience that might not know him well.

Beyond Sacramento, Cousins is known more for his feisty personality. The center acknowledged the Olympics could be an opportunity to change his image, but it’s not his priority.

“In a way, but that’s not really my main focus, honestly,” Cousins said. “It’s about those guys on the court. It’s about doing what I have to do to help this team win. That’s my main focus.”

Playing in the Olympics has been a longtime dream for Cousins. In 2012, he was named to the USA Select Team, but he believed he should have made the National Team.

Cousins’ first taste of international play with the National Team came in 2014, when the United States won the gold medal at the FIBA World Cup. But it wasn’t the Olympics.

The prospect of winning an Olympic gold medal excites Cousins.

“It’s already crazy that I’m one of the select few to be able to represent the country,” he said. “So to come home with a gold medal is something I can tell my kids, grandkids. That’s a story I’ll always be able to share.”

On Friday, Cousins began exhibition play with Team USA by supplying 14 points and a game-high 15 rebounds in a 111-74 victory over Argentina.

USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo praised Cousins’ growth on and and off the court since 2012, adding the center will be a key for the Americans in Rio de Janeiro.

“I think he’s really matured as a person,” Colangelo said. “He understood after going through some early struggles with us he was going to have to get himself ready to play, fit in and make adjustments, and he did all of that.

“So he shows up to camp here in great shape. He’d been working for some time to get himself in shape. And attitude-wise, he’s in great shape, in my opinion. This is something he really wants. I just wish he could take part of the culture we have established here and take it back it home with him. It would help their entire organization.”

Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said the “evolution of a great player, it’s not easy. You have to put yourself in different situations.”

Cousins has done just that for the Olympics. He has embraced a role in which he might not get a lot of shots on offense but will be expected to control the paint with his rebounding and defense.

Like Colangelo, Krzyzewski is impressed by Cousins’ development.

“He’s improved tremendously,” Krzyzewski said. “But I know him better, both as a guy and as a player, so our relationship is really good.”

Cousins expects to be busy in Rio not just as an athlete but a fan.

“I’m trying to go to every event,” he said. “I’m trying to mingle with the people. I want to experience their culture. I want to do everything.”

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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