DeMarcus Cousins isn’t Team USA’s conventional big man. Coach Mike Krzyzewski stresses pace and space above all else on both ends of the floor, always preferring a nominal power forward like Carmelo Anthony next to a mobile, intimidating interior presence that impacts the game without the ball. That’s not Cousins, and despite a training camp performance that’s led many to call him the best big on the roster save for Anthony Davis, a recent report suggested recent Select Team call-up Mason Plumlee has a better chance to make the 12-man World Cup roster than he does. In a candid interview with Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee, Cousins acknowledged his style of play is a strange fit for USA Basketball and said he “would be crushed” if not named to the national team.
For you specifically, they want you to dominate the boards, use your physicality to close the lane, and then blend into the offense by making timely passes and taking advantage of scoring opportunities when presented. There are plenty of scorers on the roster, mostly guards and wings.
Yeah, I know when you come (to play for Team USA) your role changes. Me, being a running big man, rim to rim, that doesn’t really play to my advantage. I’m never going to be able to just “wow” you playing that type of way. At times I can play that way. They keep telling me to run, run, run.
What is it like playing for Krzyzewski?
It’s different. I can’t say I can’t run, because at Kentucky we ran. I am not sure know what my role is. I’m still trying to figure out what that means.
(At this point, Cousins’ friend Andrew Rogers joins us and displays tweets from ESPN and other news outlets indicating that Colangelo and Krzyzewski favored Plumlee over Cousins. My sources suggested that the competition among Cousins, Drummond and Plumlee remained wide open and that Friday’s scrimmage and ensuing exhibitions would be crucial. Yet when he saw the tweets, Cousins appeared visibly shaken.)
Have you heard anything about your chances?
Nothing. They don’t really tell us much. I saw Coach K in the elevator, but we just chatted.
How disappointed would you be if you don’t make the team?
I would be crushed. Everyone knows how much I want to do this. This is my third year here (two with Select Team), and I don’t run from any challenge. I would be crushed, but I’m not a quitter. I would come back and try again.
It’s no secret that Coach K and managing director Jerry Colangelo have kept players in the dark regarding their status for Team USA’s final roster. The national team’s first cut was originally to take place after Friday’s Showcase, but the injury to Paul George altered that timeline.
Cousins has come a long way since clashing with Colangelo and other USA Basketball staffers last summer. He mentions taking on a greater leadership role and acting as a “sponge” to Kevin Durant in the interview with The Bee, crucial attitude adjustments that surely help his chances of making the World Cup team. That he’d be “crushed” if cut from the roster and would try to make the team again in future cycles is further confirmation of his new maturity.
As Cousins notes, though, he’s an awkward fit for Coach K’s system on both ends of the floor. His offensive deficiencies with respect to Team USA were on display at the Showcase. Cousins is a ball-stopping post-up player first and foremost, a style that suits a Sacramento Kings team lacking top-shelf talent. Team USA doesn’t, of course, and Cousins is hardly the pick-and-roll threat, perimeter shooter, or transition rim-runner of a prototypical USA big man like Anthony Davis.
Still, it’s the other end where he’s forced to make the biggest adjustments. Cousins isn’t comparatively quick to the other bigs in camp and offers little rim protection. Team USA asks its center to apply perimeter ball pressure before immediately recovering back to the paint to deter easy passes, contest on the interior, and rebound outside his area. Those just aren’t Cousins’ strengths, a problem related to nature instead of nurture – no matter his level of commitment or energy, he just won’t be the defensive presence of Davis, Plumlee, or even Andre Drummond.
All that said, Cousins has a good chance to make Team USA. This pool is thin on frontcourt candidates that can score, and Cousins is one of two bodies in camp – along with Drummond – capable of effectively banging with Spain’s Marc Gasol on the block.
Either way, it’s a refreshing development that Cousins cares so much about making the team. And if his newfound maturity gleaned from time with USA Basketball carries over into 2014-2015, he should be in for a career season.
Will Cousins make Team USA?
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