Sunday Musings: DeMarcus Cousins and his golden opportunity with Team USA

Vivek Ranadivé and DeMarcus Cousins chat following Team USA practice. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

Representing the United States of America…DeMarcus Cousins.

That is almost a certainty at this point.  With Blake Griffin and Kevin Love opting out of Team USA service late this week, Cousins is all but a lock to travel to Spain next month for the World Championships.  In all likelihood, he will represent the Sacramento Kings, the NBA and of course, our nation.

This is a moment Cousins has longed for.  He will go from relative obscurity in Sacramento to a global stage.  He will train with some of the world’s best, work with some of the game’s greatest coaches and stand with NBA All-Stars as the national anthem is played before each game.  He has an opportunity to rewrite any and all narratives that have been written about him and be a member of an elite group of players that represent our country.

Strangely enough, this journey began with former owner Gavin Maloof lobbying for Cousins’ inclusion back in 2012 with Jerry Colangelo, the director of Team USA Basketball.  The first go-around did not go as planned.  Cousins was brought in and told to be the brute on the squad.  His approach didn’t sit well with everyone, but he was following a directive, and that was a long time ago.

Last summer was a different story.  Cousins, as a member of the USA Select Team, outplayed most of his competition.  He came into last summer’s camp in incredible shape, and there was talk that he was the best big man in attendance.  With his strong play and calmer demeanor, he earned a spot with the parent club for this summer, but with the understanding that only 12 get to make the final squad.

Now the Sacramento Kings starting center is about as close as you can get for a lock for the World Championships.  He had a strong chance before, but with a dwindling roster, the door is wide open.  Joining Love and Griffin on the sidelines are LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.  In effect, Team USA has been handed over to league MVP Kevin Durant and any one of a handful of young stars willing to step to the forefront.

The absence of the aforementioned stars not only opens roster spots, but also gives Cousins a chance to play a major role on the team while cementing his spot for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.  This is the opportunity for which he has been waiting.

Cousins is built for international play.  He has a distinct blend of European and American influences to his game.  He is the next generation of NBA big-man talent: a post player with agility, impressive footwork, ball handling skills and much more.

He is tough, passes well, has elite rebounding skills and can shoot from the perimeter. He can also anchor the post on the offensive end and play both center and power forward for coach Mike Krzyzewski.  As a player, he is everything that Team USA needs.

For our purposes, more important than what Cousins can bring to the national team is what he can take away from this experience and bring back to Sacramento.  Playing with the best and being coached by the best is an honor, but if it is only about personal gain, then Cousins will miss the point of the exercise.

“This, what’s going on for him here, is the best thing for his career,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said about Cousins at last year’s Team USA camp.  “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.”

If Cousins can bring the “make everyone better” mantra back to Sacramento, he can make an immediate impact on the Kings roster.  At 23 years old and entering his fifth NBA season, Cousins has never led his team to more than 28 wins in any one season.

He predicted 48-50 wins this season on the BS report with Bill Simmons last week, a lofty goal to say the least.  He wants to be an All-Star and considered for All-NBA and MVP honors, but he is going to need his Kings teammates’ help to reach any of those benchmarks.

Last season in Sacramento, three players carried the bulk of the scoring load and 10 players were largely left out of the plan.  Through his Team USA experience, Cousins must learn how to pull more out of each of his teammates by getting them involved in the game plan.  He has to make everyone better, like his national team friends will do for him.

There is a uniqueness to Cousins’ game and so much potential waiting to be unlocked.  Learning from the best may be the key to making him into a player that others will follow.  That is certainly what the Kings are hoping for.

The Kings franchise is licking its chops at the potential of Cousins making the team and representing both Sacramento and the USA.  It will surely build its entire 2014-15 marketing campaign around Cousins’ stint with the national team, especially if it leads to a gold-medal run.

With a new arena slated to open just months after the 2016 Olympics, the Kings want nothing more than for their star to earn  international icon status on the world’s biggest stage.  That is what the Team USA has done for others.  That is what Team USA can do for DeMarcus Cousins.

Maybe we have gotten ahead of ourselves.  After all, Cousins still needs to earn his spot on the team.  But the opportunity that is in front of him has so much potential to aid in the rebuilding of the franchise and change the perception of him around the league.

The Kings will go where Cousins takes them.  The same may be true for Team USA.  This chance can propel him to international fame, but it can also help build a young player into much more.  If Cousins embraces the challenge and brings what he learns back to Sacramento, he can become a transformative player that backs up statistical greatness with team success.

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