LAS VEGAS (AP) — DeMarcus Cousins considers the thought, and one of the NBA’s most recognizable scowls quickly turns into a bright smile.
Without saying a word, it’s clear he agrees: For the first time under Mike Krzyzewski, the U.S. Olympic basketball team has a genuine offensive weapon in the middle.
The Americans might even have the best center in the world.
Cousins had 14 points and 15 rebounds in just 16 minutes of the Americans’ exhibition opener, a 111-74 victory over Argentina. The Sacramento Kings star can score inside and out, and gives the U.S. a dimension it hasn’t had while winning the last two gold medals.
“DeMarcus is going to be a force in Rio,” teammate Klay Thompson said.
The center spot has almost been an afterthought on recent U.S. teams, who much preferred playing small to pounding the ball inside. Then again, none had a “bulldog” like Cousins, as Kevin Durant called him.
“There’s been a lot of great bigs come through this program, so I’m blessed to be in this situation,” Cousins said. “I’m honored to be in this situation. I’m not really in it to say who’s the best at what position, I’m just here to help the team win. So we’ve got one goal in mind, which is the gold, and that’s only thing I’m focused on right now.”
Along with that gold, Cousins could bring back something else from the Olympics.
His NBA career has been six seasons of bad teams and bad moods, the constant losing in Sacramento and the chaos in the organization often overshadowing his play. He doesn’t hide his unhappiness, and many times if he’s not shouting, it’s only because he’s sulking.
The 6-foot-11 center out of Kentucky averaged a career-high 26.9 points last season, fourth in the NBA, and was fifth in the league with 11.5 rebounds per game. But the Kings missed the playoffs again, as they have every season since taking Cousins with the No. 5 pick in the 2010 draft, and his bickering with coach George Karl generated more headlines than anything he or the Kings did on the court.
Now he’ll spend a month around a team that does nothing but win, and maybe that mentality will rub off on him.
“It can only help him,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said.
“I think all the players who play for us are better people for it. They become better players. As a result, they get absorbed in the culture and that culture they bring back to their respective teams, and ultimately they benefit.”
Colangelo wasn’t certain about Cousins as a young player, saying in 2012 that he needed to be “more mature as a person, as a player” and had “a lot of growing up to do.”
He now believes they have a great relationship that’s developed over time.
As has Cousins’ role with the U.S. program. He backed up Anthony Davis in the 2014 Basketball World Cup, but with Davis recovering from injuries, Cousins has a good chance to step into the starting role.
The Americans started Dwight Howard at center in 2008 and Tyson Chandler in 2012. Both are former NBA defensive players of the year, but neither possesses Cousins’ offensive repertoire.
“DeMarcus is a different player,” said U.S. veteran Carmelo Anthony, who then focused not only on what Cousins brings, but what he can bring home.
“He’s a big who can shoot, he’s a big who can post, he’s tough, he’s a hell of a rebounder,” Anthony said. “But the most exciting thing I like about having DeMarcus out here now is he gets a chance to see how everybody else is working. Work ethic. To see him jumping into lines, to see him asking can somebody work with him, staying after, coming in before, that work ethic is something that it spills over to everybody else. When you see your peers working that hard, it makes you want to be a part of that.”
Cousins doesn’t like comparing the U.S. experience to his pro one, but praises the way the Americans do little things that get forgotten in the NBA. He came to camp in great shape and seems committed to being a good teammate, whether he starts or backs up the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan.
“He’s totally invested in what we’re doing,” Krzyzewski said.
Next up for Cousins and the Americans is their second exhibition game on Sunday against China in Los Angeles.
When it’s over, Durant and Thompson will return to an NBA team with title hopes. Cousins’ future might be the usual losing and trade rumors, so he’ll miss being around a winning team.
But maybe he can help build one.
“When you leave winning situations, it’s always going to be hard. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy winning?” Cousins said. “But I’m also always ready to get back. I’m ready to share my experience with my teammates … get the season kicked off on the right foot.”
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