LAS VEGAS – The best is yet to come for DeMarcus Cousins.
Ask anyone who knows the 22-year-old Sacramento Kings center from his days at the University of Kentucky and they’ll tell you just that.
“Look everybody’s expected him, because of his physical body, to be a 29-year-old,” John Calipari, Cousins’ head coach at Kentucky, said following yesterday’s Team USA training camp practice at UNLV. ”He’s not.”
Calipari was among the many basketball luminaries present at the Mendenhall Center Monday, watching four of his former pupils showcase their talents for the chance to play in the 2016 Olympic Games. One of them is Cousins, who was invited to participate for a second year in a row after being named to the men’s select team last summer.
While some may question Cousins’ progress over his first three NBA seasons, Calipari doesn’t. He believes that his former Wildcats center has gotten better and will continue to do so going into his fourth year in the league.
“He’s where he should be and he’s getting better,” Calipari said. “The whole thing is, I see an All-Star. That’s what I see.”
In his third season, Cousins experienced one of the most tumultuous years in his basketball career. Suspensions and disciplinary issues reared their ugly heads while Cousins was mired in a culture of losing with the Kings. Calipari didn’t closely follow Cousins’ tough season, but he was aware of what was happening.
“Anytime any of my guys aren’t playing well, it makes me ill,” Calipari said.
Despite last year’s struggles, Calipari is optimistic that a bright future is in store for Cousins. The Kentucky head coach has already touched base with the Kings new braintrust, who consulted him on the topic of the emotional young big man, and came away impressed. Calipari thinks they have a plan in place for success and that the added stability will only help Cousins reach his potential.
Calipari is also thrilled that Cousins is getting the USA Basketball experience. In addition to a new sense of security in Sacramento, the Wildcats head coach believes that the 22-year-old big man will only benefit from the four-day work with Team USA.
“This, what’s going on for him here, is the best thing for his career,” Calipari said. “Being coached by these guys, being in this, taking pride in something other than himself. It’s about this organization if you want to make it, you make everyone better or you’re not making the team.”
The opportunity in Vegas has also given Cousins a chance to reconnect on the court with fellow Calipari disciple and former UK teammate John Wall. Wall and Cousins have remained close since their days at Lexington and that connection was evident on the practice court yesterday. Because of their friendship, the Wizards guard is not afraid to be frank with Cousins and tell him what’s on his mind.
“The main thing I try to talk to him (about) as much as possible (is) whatever people say, they’re gonna say,” Wall said. “And whatever you do, just do it. Don’t change your demeanor, (but) just watch how you react to certain people and react to refs. Just go out there and play your game.”
Like his old coach, the Washington Wizards point guard spoke glowingly about his former teammate. Regardless of Cousins’ discplinary run-ins, Wall still believes that Cousins is one of the best men in the NBA.
“That’s how I feel in my opinion,” Wall said. ”He’s one of the top five best bigs and if he ever just all gets it together and lets it click, no telling what his ceiling will be.”
If he reaches that ceiling is anyone’s guess. But if you asked John Wall and John Calipari, they have faith in the Kings big man’s prospects for success in both the NBA and perhaps even the Olympics.
“He’s a great kid and I hope he sustains this,” Calipari said of Cousins. “Because big guys with those kinds of skills are FIBA basketball. He really is.”