DMC gets second chance with USA
LAS VEGAS -- It's only a mini-camp. Not a full-on boot camp.
So Mike Krzyzewski is really enforcing only one rigid policy when it comes to the 28 young pros summoned to Sin City to become fully fledged members of the Team USA talent pool.
Coach K's decree: No specific questions allowed about any of those 28 participants.
Any attempt on the opening day of Team USA practices to engage Krzyzewski about any particular player was swatted away with essentially the same vow: "I'm not going to focus on any one individual."
"Not even Kyrie," Krzyzewski insisted.
Yet it should come as little surprise that Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, reunited here in the desert with his old Duke coach, was by no means the first player Krzyzewski got asked about after the first of three practice days leading up to an NBA TV-televised intrasquad scrimmage Thursday night.
The camper attracting the most attention and generating the greatest curiosity on the campus of UNLV was inevitably Sacramento Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins, precisely one year removed from a chaotic stint in Vegas with the USA Basketball select team that had USAB chairman Jerry Colangelo openly questioning Cousins' maturity.
The pack of reporters around Cousins after Monday's maiden workout was so deep that John Calipari, who attended the session as a guest of USA Basketball to see some of his former players, jokingly complained that "I couldn't find him."
Calipari was looking for Cousins to inform him that they'd be dining together Monday night, where it's reasonable to assume that the Sacramento manchild was reminded once again by his college coach how crucial it is that he capitalize on this second chance afforded by Colangelo and Krzyzewski.
"What's going on for him here [in Las Vegas]," Calipari said, "is the best thing for his career."
Playing for your country, Calipari went on to explain, is the best and fastest way that Cousins will learn to embrace the idea of "taking pride in something other than himself" after three roller-coaster seasons with the Kings so far.
"If you want to make [the Team USA roster next summer]," Calipari continued, "you make everybody better or you're not making the team."
Or as Krzyzewski himself described it when asked what he's generally looking for from the players assembled here: "The ability to blend your talent willingly with other people who have talents ... blending your talents with other talented people in a willing manner."
And that's where Cousins, for all the (mostly) conciliatory comments he made to the media pack surrounding him, clearly still has work to do.
He repeatedly thanked Colangelo for the opportunity at redemption, earnestly tried to downplay any notion of trying to force his way out of Sacramento and even volunteered the idea that he has been studying the defense-first role Tyson Chandler filled at last summer's Olympics under the premise that he thinks he can provide the same at the 2014 World Cup of Basketball in Spain.
Cousins' humility went missing when he was pressed to elaborate on his intent to "come in and try to be the best big [in camp]."
Asked to identify his competition for that unofficial title -- in a camp that also features the likes of Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried, Derrick Favors, DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe and Larry Sanders -- Cousins shot back with a quick: "Nobody."
Boogie defenders out there will undoubtedly say that Cousins merely gave in to a one-quote rush of his usual bravado that shouldn't be overanalyzed. Yet the reality, given Cousins' rocky history and the spirit of uber-cooperation and teamwork Team USA officials expect in this environment, is it's a comment that doesn't exactly help Cousins' cause.
"Look," Calipari said, "everybody's expecting him, because of his physical body, to be a 29-year-old. He's not."
Calipari went on to reveal that he had already counseled Cousins before this mini-camp opened and likewise huddled with Colangelo to help those running the national-team program try to get the best out of the 6-foot-11, 270-pound enigma. Krzyzewski, according to Calipari, hasn't directly asked for advice on the best buttons to push, but you can understand why USAB wants to give the Boogie Experiment every chance to succeed.
Surely everyone in the game sees the potential Cousins possesses, particularly in the international arena, with his ability to rebound and pass and, of course, score in a variety of ways.
"Big guys with those kinds of skills are [made for] FIBA basketball," said Calipari, who nearly coached his way into the London Olympics in last summer's gig with the Dominican Republic.
Said Colangelo: "I've been around the game a long time. Things happen. You set them aside, you bury these things and you move on. It was overplayed last summer for sure, but that's last year. I never had a doubt I'd bring him back if he deserved to come back."
Another invite, frankly, was inevitable. Cousins, after all, doesn't even turn 23 until August. It would be lunacy to write him off this early in his career.
Yet you can rest assured that he's being watched closely and evaluated daily by numerous USAB eyeballs, no matter how little we get from Krzyzewski in terms of progress reports.
According to the whispers emanating from UNLV's Mendenhall Center, Portland's Damian Lillard, Utah's Gordon Hayward and collegian Doug McDermott of Creighton were among the Day 1 standouts, with the Los Angeles Clippers' Jordan said to have made his presence felt defensively.
The Sacramento King sporting the No. 36 jersey, meanwhile, had to settle for making a post-practice splash, with Cousins thrust into the media spotlight essentially for the first time since the consortium led by Vivek Ranadive bought the Kings from the Maloof family and promptly installed Mike Malone as Sacramento's new coach and Pete D'Alessandro as the its new general manager.
"He came in with a great attitude, he has worked real hard [and] he had a good day today at practice," Colangelo said. "There's a little bit of a misunderstanding that got out of hand with the media last year over what did transpire with him, and that was unfortunate. And so, in an attempt to bring it to a close, I said: 'The book is closed, let's move on with our lives and why not give him a second chance?' Everyone deserves one."
Said Cousins: "What was said between us wasn't as bad as it was [portrayed], but for [Colangelo] to set it aside and give me another chance, I'm very thankful for it."
And it should be noted that Cousins, when pushed to discuss the contract extension he's eligible to sign between now and Halloween -- amid rising rumbles that he wants and expects a max deal -- deflected that one about as humbly as he possibly could have.
"I'm not really focused on that," Cousins said. "I'm focused on USA [Basketball]. I'm glad I got the chance to come back and I'm gonna come in and take advantage of the opportunity."
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