Cousins arrived on campus with a problem child reputation, and for the first few weeks of the season, he lived up to that rep. Then something changed. The guy who admitted that he had built high walls to keep everyone out suddenly let all of those walls come down and became one of the most loved players in UK history. He allowed the world to see the goofy, fun-loving kid that he had fought so long to hide, and Kentucky fans welcomed him with open arms. He endeared himself to the local media to the point that many openly admitted how much they loved dealing with him on a daily basis. Cousins even asked a UK fan site, Kentuckysportsradio.com, to come up with a nickname for him (He later asked them if they would just call him Boogie).
Kentucky fans that watched from afar may have only seen a team full of freshmen that made a run to the Elite Eight, but that barely scratches the surface of what the team featuring John Wall, Boogie Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, and Patrick Patterson meant to the program and its fans. They will, without a doubt, go down as one of the most memorable teams in UK history. Just like the "Unforgettables" in 1992, this team restored a languishing program to its proper place at the top of the NCAA basketball world. Neither team won a national title, but that doesn't keep them out of UK lore. DeMarcus Cousins was the most loved player on one of the most loved teams in UK history. That's pretty hallowed ground.
When it came time for the NBA draft, the national media fulfilled its obligation and created the narrative that Cousins was a head-case and teams should beware come draft day. Was some of it true? To an extent, yes. Cousins needed a team with a good support system to facilitate his growth. At UK, he had Wall, Bledsoe, and most importantly, John Calipari to help him flourish. In the NBA, like most 19 year olds, he would need much of the same type of support. Yet, the Kings and Paul Westphal have struggled to provide a supportive atmosphere on what could possibly be the most dysfunctional team in the NBA (Not even counting Cousins). It begs the question, how can an entire NBA organization struggle to create the requisite atmosphere when John Calipari and fellow freshmen made it look so easy?
Does Cousins deserve much of the blame? Absolutely. He has had bouts of immaturity and has let his intensity get the best of him at times during the season. However, anyone who has played sports at the highest levels of competition knows that there will be strife from time to time when you put a bunch of fiery competitors together. Shouting matches, physical altercations, etc are a common phenomenon in the world of team sports. That's just the nature of the beast. The difference in professional sports is that your reputation determines the media reaction. If Dwight Howard gets into it with a teammate, he'll get the benefit of the doubt because he isn't viewed as a bad apple. Whereas, when Cousins does it, it's because he's a head-case or a guy with serious attitude problems. Granted, Cousins hasn't exactly helped shed the reputation, but the reputation was unfair to begin with. It's always easier to fall back on the troublemaker narrative than to scratch the surface and see Cousins' true nature. This tremendous article highlights some of the amazing things Cousins has done off the court, but it's safe to say that you won't see those good deeds being brought up by the mainstream media. As one of my friends commented last week, Cousins is going to have that reputation follow him around throughout his career no matter how much time he spends as a model citizen.
Aaron Torres has a much more in-depth article on the subject that can be found here. He has much more information and analysis of Cousins and the Kings. Here's a small sample of his awesome piece:
Really though, you know who I blame for this whole mess? The Kings themselves.
Look, it’s no secret that coming into the league, Cousins could- at times- be emotionally unstable. You know what his presence early on reminded me of really? It reminded me of the high school friend that we all had, who came to visit you at college and proceeded to get way too drunk, and just make a general ass out of himself the whole time he was there. But at the end of the night, he was still your friend right? And once he passed out, didn’t you spend the next 45 minutes telling everyone, “No seriously, he’s a good guy. You’ve just got to get to know him.”
Well, that was Cousins coming into the league. He wasn’t like any other dude in the draft. You had to handle him differently. You had to “know,” him.
Here’s a quick excerpt from my Draft Preview on June 23:
What it really comes down to with Cousins though is the support system you put around him. No guy in this draft needs to go to a “good,” situation like Cousins does. That’s why I was almost hoping that the Hornets or Rockets would sneak into the first three picks and take this kid, so that Chris Paul or Yao Ming could show him the ropes and show him how to be a pro.
So here’s the question: If I knew all that way back in June, how did the Kings not know the same? Why didn’t they stay away from Cousins, or if they did draft him, bring in some veteran presence to help guide him? Why were John Calipari and John Wall able to keep him in line, but Kings management hasn’t been able to do the same? Can you really blame Cousins when the Kings knew this is what they were getting from him, and did nothing to help? Is it Cousins fault that he was drafted by a team with worse role models than the babies on Teen Mom have?
The other thing to remember too, is that Cousins is only 20-yars-old. I don’t care how much fame, wealth or basketball skill he has, this was a guy who was in high school 20 months ago. Are we surprised that he’s a bit immature?
Listen, don’t let Kevin Durant fool you, not all 20-year-old's are as mature, eloquent and well-spoken at that age as he, LeBron James and Dwight Howard were. There are plenty who are equally quiet, insecure and unstable. Yes that includes Cousins, but it also includes the kid working at the pharmacy down the street from you, and your nephew the Econ major. Just speaking for myself, I can promise that I'm not proud of everything I did at 20.