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The Ballad of Boogie

DeMarcus Cousins is having a great season — but will he ever be a great leader?

Whenever they were at the grocery store, Monique Cousins would train one eye on her shopping cart and the other on her son, DeMarcus. By the time he hit adolescence he was more than tall — his arms and legs were always in a tangle, and his knees and elbows jutted out everywhere. At the store, DeMarcus towered over aisles and shoppers alike. Sometimes he’d carelessly bump into them while casting his gaze above their heads. Sometimes they got angry with the giant, wandering boy.

“There would always have to be [an adult] around so that you could make that individual understand,” Monique Cousins said. “You would always have to tell them his age; then they would calm down. Because they would just look at [his] body. If you would just look at the face and listen to him talk, you’d know.”

Everyone saw a man. But DeMarcus Cousins was just a child.

♦♦♦

The first time Cousins practiced for Otis Hughley, his coach at Alabama’s LeFlore Magnet High School, he pawed a rebound, dribbled the length of the floor, and whipped a behind-the-back pass to a cutting teammate. Hughley ended practice right then and there.

“I needed time to process what he just did,” Hughley said. “I don’t even think he knew.”

No one has ever questioned Cousins’s talent. It’s his attitude — a unique brand of petulance that both makes him go and holds him back — that has defined his basketball life.

Over time, Cousins’s lankiness turned into muscle. His awkwardness became power. He had the size of a man, if not the demeanor. When the Sacramento Kings drafted Cousins in 2010 after his freshman year at Kentucky, pairing him with Tyreke Evans, he was tapped to lead the organization into a new era of prosperity. His struggle is not uncommon in an era of one-and-done players. How do you become The Man if you’re still learning how to be a man?

When DeMarcus Cousins entered the league, he demeaned coaches, fought with teammates, and argued with referees. He was a tyrant. But he inflicted the most damage on himself. Keith Smart, his former coach in Sacramento, once heard famed Georgetown coach John Thompson vouch for Cousins, in a manner of speaking. “It’s easier to calm down a fool than resurrect a dead man,” Smart recalled Thompson saying. Now more than ever, Cousins needs calming. He stands out in a league largely devoid of traditional big men, at nearly 7 feet tall and weighing 270 pounds, yet he moves like a guard, with a deft touch around the basket.

“I don’t know if he understands how talented he is,” said Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento’s point guard.

Four years into a tumultuous career, he may finally understand what he’s supposed to be. His definition of leadership would have made John Wooden beam.

“Leadership is being the best example you can be for your teammates,” Cousins said before a recent game. “The guy that everybody can depend on on a nightly basis. A leader is a guy [whose] energy and aura can control the people around you. It’s not about your image. It’s about going out every night and leading a group of guys by example and not just necessarily speaking.”

“To be honest, I’ve been a leader for a while now,” he continued. “It’s just I haven’t led in the best way possible. That’s what I want to learn. I’m a guy that a lot of people look up to. I haven’t always handled situations the right way. That’s why I have to continue to grow and be a better player, a better leader.”

Cousins received a technical foul in his next game against the Utah Jazz. He was charged with another one the following night in Phoenix, upping his league-high total to 10. People inside the Kings organization speak of a new DeMarcus Cousins, one who is drastically more mature than the 19-year-old kid who entered the league. Still, the product is not finished.

“At this point it resides in him,” said Geoff Petrie, the former Kings general manager who drafted Cousins. “It really does. He’s going to determine what his career is. Obviously, he’s going to play for a long time and make a lot of money, all those peripheral things. But what it actually stands for is up to him.”

♦♦♦

Gary Williams, an assistant coach with the AAU’s Birmingham Storm, was always on the lookout for talent. When Williams first spotted Cousins, he figured he had to be nearing high school graduation. He was a seventh-grader. Williams told Cousins about the Storm, but the boy had always been reluctant about playing basketball. He was especially worried about the frequent travel an AAU team demanded. It was his mother who coaxed him into it.

Danny Pritchett kept waiting for the kid to stop growing. Pritchett, the Storm’s head coach, figured that Williams had exaggerated Cousins’s size. Maybe he was 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-2. “Oh my god,” Pritchett said to himself as he watched Cousins unfurl out of the car before his first practice. Just 12 years old, he stood about 6-foot-5. Cousins didn’t know much about the game then. But unlike most kids his size, he was coordinated. “That was when I knew I had something to work with,” Pritchett said.

Within two years, the recruiting website Rivals.com ranked Cousins as the country’s top ninth-grader before he entered E.B. Erwin High School in Center Point, Alabama. “It came pretty fast,” Cousins said. That ranking may as well have been pinned onto Cousins’s back next to his jersey number. Opponents played him aggressively, coming after him to prove their toughness. He had his front teeth dislodged on more than one occasion. “When people couldn’t compete with him, they would actually push him, hit him, knock him out the air,” Pritchett said. “The front teeth in his mouth are not real. They got elbowed out. So you’re telling a kid that’s maybe 15, 16 years old that this is normal, you’ve got to handle this. There were some growing pains to show him how to handle it.” Pritchett asked Cousins to respond by playing harder. “Grab 10 more rebounds,” he suggested. “Dunk five more times. That’s how you get back at them.”

The competition wasn’t limited to the court. Other summer league coaches tried poaching Cousins from Pritchett on nearly a daily basis. The Bad News Bears, Monique Cousins playfully called the Storm. They lacked the resources of other AAU teams. Monique drove from tournament to tournament, sometimes pulling up at home from a weekend trip just in time for DeMarcus to run inside and get dressed for school.

Other teams offered free flights, sneakers, and tickets to professional games. “Anything that a child his age would like to do,” Monique Cousins said.

DeMarcus Cousins noticed how those recruiters changed their tune when he told them he was sticking with Pritchett and the Storm. “There’s people that smile in your face, but they’ve got a different agenda,” Pritchett said. “They’re not who they [say they] are.

“If DeMarcus loves you, he’s going to love you,” Pritchett continued. “If he’s upset about something, you’re going to see it. But that don’t mean he don’t love you. And if you got a question that needs to be asked, don’t ask him if you don’t want to hear the answer. He’ll tell you exactly what it is.”

Jaleel Cousins said his older brother allows few people into his life. “If he senses you’re fake and you’re going to try and use him, he’s going to let you know,” Jaleel said. “He’s not going to have a bunch of fake people around him.”

This mentality made for clear lines in life and on the basketball court. The opposition was the opposition. At Erwin, Cousins joined a veteran team. “He was an integral part of the team, but he wasn’t the captain,” said Van Phillips, the school’s principal. “He respected the senior leadership.”

Still, he had his problems. The school suspended Cousins for the second half of his sophomore season following a physical altercation with a bus driver. The incident trailed Cousins throughout his high school career. He maintained that he was only defending himself. The next season, when Cousins briefly enrolled at Clay-Chalkville in Pinson, he was ruled ineligible by the Alabama High School Athletic Association, which determined that the school had improperly recruited Cousins and two other transfers.

Cousins then landed with Hughley at LeFlore. “I was much the same [way] as a player and adolescent,” Hughley said. “I knew him a million miles away.” Cousins wondered why his new coach held him to a higher standard. Other kids had criminal records. Why worry about him? “You’re not at the starting line with these folks,” Hughley would tell him. “The folks are looking at you, saying, I wish I had what you have.”

“If somebody wants to beat you with a stick, let them find their own,” he’d tell him. “Don’t give them a stick to beat you with. But at 15, 16 years old, you don’t understand that.”

Basketball became Cousins’s life, a constant routine of practice and games, with school and sleep filling in the gaps.

Cousins missed out on many of high school’s rites of passage. “He didn’t do a lot of things outside of basketball,” Hughley said. Cousins went to an all-star camp instead of prom. He practiced instead of attending his school’s football games. “He never really got to do the normal things other kids did, like dating,” Monique Cousins said. “He basically sacrificed everything to play ball.”

Cousins maintained his ranking as a top prospect, even after a heavily favored LeFlore lost to Birmingham’s Parker, 52-39, in the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 5A semifinals in 2009. Eric Bledsoe, Cousins’s future Kentucky teammate, guided Parker with 17 points, nine rebounds, and five assists. Cousins missed 10 of his 12 shots and fouled out on a technical with less than four minutes remaining. “His frustration was a big part of the plan,” Maurice Ford, Parker’s coach, told the Birmingham News. “Get the big man frustrated.”

♦♦♦

Before a mid-December game against the Suns, Cousins met with referees Mark Ayotte, Michael Smith, and Ben Taylor. He smiled at midcourt, shook hands, and returned to his team’s huddle.

The Suns have been a pleasant surprise this season, but the Kings have already beaten them twice and things got chippy. Cousins was charged with a technical in the third quarter when he lingered near the Suns’ bench. No surprise. He tends to run into trouble when he prolongs the tension for a second too long. He pushes right to that moment when things can either escalate or be defused.

After the T, the game deteriorated for the Kings. At one point, Miles Plumlee blocked Cousins’s shot, and later tripped him as he ran upcourt. These are the moments when one might expect Cousins to explode and get ejected. But something was different this time. He held back.

“The more you stay quiet, the more you treat them with respect, the more they treat you bad,” Cousins said after the game, his voice barely above a whisper. “It’s the same story, as you can see. No calls, just the same story. If anything it’s been worse. And then if I react any type of way, it’s an automatic technical, just because of my reputation.

“I try to keep it cool, but they show me no respect. None whatsoever.”

After the 6-foot-1 Bledsoe authoritatively blocked one of his shots, Cousins realized he was having an off night offensively. So he focused on grabbing every rebound he could. It’s a tactic John Calipari hammered home while Cousins was at Kentucky, where he joined a star-studded class that included Bledsoe, John Wall, and Daniel Orton in 2009.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - New Orleans

“He knew how to bring out the best in me,” Cousins said. “He taught me you could dominate games in other ways. Like tonight, I can’t get a bucket, but I tried to get every damn board. He teaches how to play hard and that the game’s not just scoring.”

Cousins roomed with Wall at Kentucky.

“I talked him through a lot and I’m like a bigger brother to him,” Wall said. “I’m just smaller, that’s it.” The pair met years earlier on the AAU circuit. “He likes to joke and have fun, but he takes everything serious from day one. Your first impression is your best impression with him, really.”

Calipari and Cousins often bickered during games, but they chalked up their disagreements to passionate people communicating. In fact, Cousins endeared himself to the fan base in Lexington. It was assistant coach Rod Strickland who nicknamed him Boogie because of the way he played: with rare buoyancy for a big man. Despite struggling with foul trouble and averaging just 23 minutes a game, Cousins still posted 15.1 points and 9.9 rebounds a game for the Wildcats. “There were moments when I thought he made the wrong decision,” Wall said. “He had to do all that running and conditioning. He’d never been in shape before, but he did it. He committed himself to it.” Kentucky went 35-3 that season, though a poor shooting performance resulted in a 73-66 loss to West Virginia in the Elite Eight.

Cousins met with Calipari after the season. Stay at Kentucky if you want to help take care of my family, Calipari said. Go if you want to take care of yours. “Once he put it in those words, it wasn’t really a tough decision at all,” Cousins said of declaring. He joined Wall, Bledsoe, Orton, and Patrick Patterson in leaving Kentucky early for the NBA. “DeMarcus came from family,” Monique Cousins said. “When he was at LeFlore, it was a family. When he was in Kentucky, it was a family. So he perceived going to the NBA, it would be a family.”

♦♦♦

Cousins prepared for the draft with Keith Williams, a trainer based in Washington, D.C. He memorized the articles doubting his prospects as Williams drove him to the facility every day. His work ethic, motivation, and fitness were all questioned. “Everything negative that could be printed was printed before I had even played a single game,” Cousins said. “[They said] I was going to eat my way out the league.”

Kevin Durant is also one of Williams’s clients. One day before the draft, Williams pitted Durant and Cousins one-on-one at the end of a session. Durant shook free of Cousins and dunked on one possession. Cousins followed with a crossover and a dunk of his own. “That’s a center?” a surprised Durant asked.

Cousins lived with Williams as he trained. “A lot of times he’s just watching to see who and what you are,” Williams said. “You might act one way, but then show him something else. You can be an asshole. But as long as you’re an asshole all the time, he can accept that. I think he’s different when you’re wishy-washy, and that’s what he’s used to seeing, especially in men.”

Cousins would have competed with Wall for the top overall selection had the criteria been based on talent alone. But Cousins’s reputation was well known by then. Wall went first to Washington. Sacramento selected Cousins fifth overall, two picks after the Nets took another freshman post player, Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors.

The Kings had again reset the organization in search of stability since firing Rick Adelman in 2006. The Kings’ owners, the Maloof brothers, had once financed one of the league’s highest payrolls. By 2009, it was trimmed bare. Veteran coach Paul Westphal joined that year, becoming the team’s fourth in as many years.

The organization plastered Cousins’s and Tyreke Evans’s pictures outside of Arco Arena. “I think it was somewhat overwhelming for him,” said Grant Napear, Sacramento’s play-by-play announcer. Cousins’s game translated instantly to the NBA, but he didn’t find a family, or an organization that would coddle him. The Kings hired Hughley as an assistant in hopes of smoothing the transition, but Cousins said he found an antagonistic atmosphere awaiting him in Sacramento.

“It was terrible, to be honest,” Cousins said. “When I’m talking about people being gullible, my own organization was. I came in and it was, You got to do this, you’ve got to do that. You’ve got to lose weight. It was everything negative before I even played my first game. It was rough from the beginning. I’m thinking I’ve got to go to battle with these guys and they don’t even believe in me in the first place.”

Westphal and Cousins struggled to find common ground. “You’re talking about different eras,” said John Greig, Cousins’s agent at the time. “[Westphal and Petrie] were from a time when players were to be seen and not heard and you just told players what to do and that was it. It’s a different world.”

The Kings won only 24 games during Cousins’s rookie season, and he was far from blameless. His time under Westphal was plagued by infighting and outbursts. He was losing for the first time in his life. He openly wondered why the game didn’t come as easily to his teammates as it did to him. The Kings roster had no veterans who could provide Cousins with a path to professionalism.

“With no stability, without any type of support system, without anyone that you can basically go to to get a basic understanding of What do you want from me? What do I need to do? How can I get better?, I don’t think anyone could survive,” Monique Cousins said. “It’s just like a marriage. Without the communication, without the trust, without the teamwork, you can’t reach a goal. If there’s dysfunction in that group, there’s no way that group will progress.”

Philadelphia at Sacramento

The situation devolved until Westphal abruptly released a statement in January 2012 criticizing Cousins’s commitment. It claimed the young center had demanded a trade. “When a player continually, aggressively, lets it be known that he is unwilling/unable to embrace traveling in the same direction as his team, it cannot be ignored indefinitely,” the statement read. Cousins denied asking to be traded. The organization fired Westphal a few days later. Westphal declined to comment for this article. He said he was at work on a book, presumably on his distinguished playing and coaching career.

Assistant Keith Smart, freshly released by Golden State’s new management after one season, replaced Westphal. He figured that Cousins’s maturation would be a five-year process. “You’re taking a young man and trying to get him to master everything that Tim Duncan already has,” Smart said. “You’re putting demands on him to be competitive every single night, to carry a basketball team, to keep his emotions under control, to manage the people in his life. You’re asking a huge amount of stuff for a young player who only had one year of college to come into the NBA environment and now wanting these things.”

Clifford Ray worked closely with Cousins. Ray is a veteran assistant coach and a mentor to big men across the league. “Most young players, when something don’t go right, they usually drop their heads and they don’t get back or something happens when they lose their focus,” Ray said. “I have to say with DeMarcus, if he does get out of focus, he usually gets out of it pretty quickly.” Ray would tell Cousins that he had never seen an official call or change a personal foul because a player complained. He doubted Cousins would be the first.

Still, the dance continued.

Cousins would take a step forward and then two back. The NBA suspended him for two games in November 2012 when he confronted Spurs announcer Sean Elliott after Elliott criticized him during a broadcast. The next month Smart benched Cousins for the second half of a loss to the Clippers following a verbal outburst. Cousins remained in the locker room while his teammates played. The team suspended him indefinitely, which turned out to be another two games.

“He’s playing catch-up in life in that area and trying to get everything together, get away from the perception of how people see him,” Smart said. “If you’re around him, people will tell you that off the floor he is an unbelievable human being.”

Williams continued counseling Cousins and attempted to put his youthful indiscretions into perspective. “Imagine you’re old and you’re a coach,” the trainer said he told Cousins. “Would you like some young punk, 21 years old, talking crazy when you’re 45, 50 years old?” Cousins said no. “Well, that’s what you need to think about when you’re dealing with these coaches and these older people,” Williams replied. “You wouldn’t want to be treated like that, so why treat them like that?”

But Williams also doubts Cousins would be the same player if he lost his edge. “If there was ever a time when he thought no one was out to get him, I don’t think he’d know what to do,” Williams said.

The Maloof family, hard hit by the economic downturn, sought to move the franchise to Anaheim, Virginia Beach, or Seattle. Sacramento’s unstable identity persisted.

“We had so much going on,” Smart said of last season. “We had multiple cities saying they were going to get the team. For a guy like him, he needs to be in an environment where everything is stable because he’s a homebody.”

Smart, like coaches before and after, tried to find Cousins’s equilibrium. He was enraptured by his talents. In one game against Phoenix, the Suns tried to take advantage of Cousins in their pick-and-roll, switching him onto a guard. Smart instead switched Cousins onto Jared Dudley, a perimeter player who weighs about 50 pounds less than Cousins and typically roams around the 3-point line. Cousins adeptly chased him all over, shutting him down for the game, just as Smart had predicted.

“I told him I probably wasn’t a good head coach for him because I wanted him to be better defensively, to do the right things on the floor,” Smart said. “But what he needed more than anything at that time, last year anyway, was someone that could really, really be with him and spend a lot of time with him. When you’re head coaching, you still have 14 other guys you’re trying to manage.”

♦♦♦

Cousins began his first conversation with new Kings coach Mike Malone by making two declarations: (1) Most of his problems stemmed from his frustration in losing, and (2) he was coachable. “You and I have a lot in common already,” Malone replied. “I hate to lose as well. There are a lot of guys in the NBA that like to win. Not all guys hate to lose.” The Kings had hired Malone, the son of longtime NBA coach Brendan Malone, as part of their overhaul last offseason. A group led by Vivek Ranadivé, the TIBCO Software chairman, purchased the team with intentions of keeping the franchise in Sacramento. Pete D’Alessandro became the team’s general manager. Malone and the incoming executives traveled to Alabama and met with Cousins during the summer. They wanted Cousins to know that he was a priority and they would build around him.

“He’d had a long road at that point,” D’Alessandro said. “The team was being traded left and right, all over the place. You’re 22 years old, it was a difficult thing I think, maybe, for him to believe. But we knew it was a first step toward trying to get that relationship going and that was a big part of what we needed to do.”

The four-year, $62 million contract extension that the Kings offered and Cousins accepted in September alleviated any lingering concern. “We knew his talent,” D’Alessandro said. “There’s no question. His talent is undeniable and what we realized was that this is a young man that’s also into this. He just wanted a direction. He wanted to know that we were going in a direction. We’re on the same page. We’re trying to win.”

Malone is from New York. It doesn’t take long to figure this out. He is direct and leaves little room for uncertainty. He told Cousins that they were both entering the season with a clean slate. Malone didn’t want anyone clouding his opinion of Cousins. He didn’t even inquire with Calipari, a colleague he has known for decades. Malone asked Cousins to become a leader and pointed out the steps that he needed to take. Malone coached LeBron James in Cleveland. He regards Cousins’s nemesis Chris Paul, whom he coached in New Orleans, as the league’s best leader. He asked Cousins to work out in Sacramento in September to get a jump on the season. Cousins and most of the team practiced together the entire month.

Olrando at Sacramento

Their relationship is off to a strong start. Cousins has worked closely with assistants Corliss Williamson and Chris Jent on his post work and being consistent, not just in games, but in practices. “Mike has been incredible,” Cousins said. “He’s not a coach that believes he knows it all. He admits when he’s wrong. He admits that he’s still learning. I believe that’s what everybody likes about him, and we’re all trying to get better together.”

Malone warned Ranadivé early on that he would draw a fair amount of technicals rallying to support Cousins. Cousins received one early on in a game against Utah last month. Malone told him to focus on the rest of the game and he would argue on his behalf for any missed calls. Cousins appeared to get hacked on one possession and screamed at an official to no avail. Malone inherited the rest of the argument and collected the tech. Cousins stayed in the game.

“This is a fine line with the NBA, but I think DeMarcus, sometimes he gets penalized for being so big and strong,” Malone said. “When I was in Cleveland with LeBron, he went through that a little bit. The calls that others got, he wouldn’t get because he’s a man. He’s a beast. Well, DeMarcus is the same thing. Sometimes we feel that he gets mistreated because of him being so big and strong on top of his prior history.”

Wall, Washington’s point guard, agreed with Malone’s assessment. “He’s always been bigger against everyone he’s [played] against,” Wall said. “It’s tough in this league because we can’t do anything with our arms or anything like that because you get techs quicker than you used to get in the past. So as emotional a player as he is, it’s very tough for him. Because he gets emotional after every call and he feels like he gets fouled a lot because he’s so big. Sometimes you don’t get the same calls and respect because you’re bigger than most guys.”

Malone often finishes addressing the team by asking if any players want to add anything. He then specifically asks Cousins if he wants to speak. In one of their best performances of the year, the Kings upset Miami in December, but Cousins used his monologue to criticize the team’s defense in the first quarter. “When he’s locked in on defense and when he’s executing the coverages and playing in a stance and not taking the easy way or the shortcut or the lazy option and actually defending the right way,” Malone said, “he’s a very good defensive player. And now he becomes even that much of a better player and more dominant player because now he’s on both ends of the floor. I think that kind of goes along with his ability to lead. It can’t just be about one end of the floor. It can’t just be one day you lead. It’s got to be every day you lead. It’s got to be both ends of the floor you have to play.”

Malone knows how important it is for Cousins to develop as a leader. “If he comes in and is fucking around, then everyone else will fuck around,” Malone said. “He has to come in with the right mind-set of being mature and being a leader and set the tone every day.”

Cousins maintains a rivalry with the Clippers, and Paul in particular. “It’s just, some players I don’t respect,” Cousins said. “Just their playing style of basketball. I don’t respect it. I feel like it’s basically cheating and I don’t respect a cheater. If that’s your tactic to winning, I don’t respect you.”

In November, he memorably yanked Isaiah Thomas away as he attempted to shake Paul’s hand after a close loss. “It was [him being competitive],” Thomas said. “At the same time, I told him, ‘Everyone looks at everything that you do. So they may take it a different way than what you were trying to do. You’re mad we lost. You don’t want to shake hands with them, but you didn’t have to pull me away to make it something that it wasn’t. You made everyone say, “Oh, he’s a bad guy because he doesn’t want to shake hands.”’ Everybody doesn’t shake hands after games anyways. But they single him out because of how he did it.”

Malone has to find the balance in his gifted big man. “You can’t teach passion,” Malone said. “His challenge is to not fight adversity, because every game you’re in, you’re going to have adversity, as a team, individually, whatever it might be. He can’t fight the adversity. He’s got to learn to embrace the adversity, handle it, and get past it.”

Cousins’s technicals, Malone said, are about his competitiveness and backing up his teammates, not anger or frustration. As Wall put it, “I know he’s not just playing for DeMarcus Cousins anymore.”

“He’s still young,” Malone said. “I think he understands what being a leader is now, whereas I think before — a lot of guys think being a leader is just being a guy that can put up 20 and 10, but that’s got nothing to do with being a leader.”

The Kings are still dwelling at the bottom of the Western Conference. It’s easy to glance at their record and assume little has changed. But there’s been an organizational shift easily highlighted by the acquisition of Rudy Gay. The Kings took a risk in absorbing his contract. For all the criticisms about his game, Gay is the most accomplished veteran Cousins has played alongside.

Cousins is also improving on the floor, compiling one of the most impressive statistical seasons for a center in recent memory. He is averaging a career-high 23.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. His 33.9 points per 48 minutes is second only to Kevin Durant. Cousins is on pace to rack up the highest player efficiency rating for a center — 26.32 — since Shaquille O’Neal in 2002-03.

Cousins offered a diplomatic response when asked if he believed he had proven himself worthy of All-Star consideration across the league. “We’ll see,” he said. “I can’t really answer that.”

He offered a quicker answer when asked if he considered himself All-Star-worthy. “Absolutely,” he said.

♦♦♦

Monique Cousins never considered moving to Sacramento to join her son. She knew he needed space, so she remained in Alabama to provide a safety net, a place where he’s just Marc. “I guess about six years ago, if you would have asked, ‘Do you want this if it’s like this?’ I would have said, ‘I don’t want it,’” Monique Cousins said. “But it’s a growing process for me too.”

She expected Cousins to mature with time. “It’s not like it’s just unfair because some of the stuff he’s done, he’s done to himself,” she said. “It’s a process of becoming a better DeMarcus, just like any person growing up. You’re trying to figure out who you are, what’s really you and what’s not.

“He’s not the same person he was three years ago and I knew that would happen once he got more time to work on himself,” Monique Cousins said. “Because in the beginning, people weren’t worried about the person. They were just worried about ball, winning the game, and as time has gone on, we’ve been able to work on the person.”

Patrick Patterson, Cousins’s teammate at Kentucky, later joined him on the Kings before being dealt in the Gay trade. “The wins aren’t there, but you can definitely see the different type of attitude the team has every single game,” Patterson said. “And the way he approaches each game is totally different than when he first arrived to the NBA.” He urged Cousins to do a commercial to reveal his playful side. “We all know that this game loves to single out bad guys and have villains in the league,” Patterson added, “and unfortunately for DeMarcus, he’s one of them.”

Cousins knows he needs to shake that rep. It eats at him.

“Absolutely it bothers me,” Cousins said. “It’s not that they’re getting anything wrong. It’s that they’re putting out what they want to put out. They’re building you up to be what they want you to be. Some of these guys that they got — the clean-cut, the good guys of the league — they’re complete assholes. Assholes. But you’ll never know that because of the way they portray them, they’re just the perfect role model.

“I believe I’ve been mature, but that’s the title I got stuck with. I got drafted at 19. I’ve got millions of dollars in my pocket, I could have lost my damn mind. I don’t see how you could consider me immature. You think about yourself at 19, having millions in your pocket.”

The people who could harbor a grudge against Cousins — Smart, his former coach; Phillips, his former high school principal; Greig, his former agent — do not. Instead, they speak proudly of Cousins’s growth. “I think his life is changing before his own eyes,” Smart said. Cousins rose quickly, from the kid who repeatedly got his teeth knocked out to an NBA star. But the more he has advanced, the more insulated he’s become.

The right steps have been taken. Now the Kings expect more.

“I know I’ve done bad things,” Cousins said. “But I’ve done just as much good as I have done bad. And it’s not even necessarily bad. I would say they’re growing pains.”

Filed Under: NBA, demarcus cousins, Sacramento Kings, kentucky wildcats, John Wall, john calipari

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Jonathan Abrams is a staff writer for Grantland. He is working on a book about the NBA’s prep-to-pro generation of players.

Archive @ JPdabrams

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