Cousins a risk — if you don't draft him

Kentucky big man has all the tools

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 22, 2010 

After DeMarcus Cousins dropped 18 points and 13 rebounds on Mississippi on Feb. 2, Rebels Coach Andy Kennedy was asked if the Kentucky big man reminded him of anyone.

Kennedy's comparison was jarring.

He likened Cousins' talent to Chris Washburn, the standout big man for North Carolina State who was the third overall pick in the ill-fated 1986 NBA draft (think Len Bias).

Within three years, Washburn had squandered his considerable pro potential and immense earning potential through immaturity and substance abuse.

Cousins, had size, talent and "unbelievable ability," Kennedy said that night. "Hopefully he can channel that in a positive direction."

As Thursday's NBA Draft approaches, it is clear that Kennedy is hardly the only basketball person who looks at Big Cuz and sees big questions threatening a big talent.

Based on productivity and potential, Cousins should be no worse than the second player taken when David Stern starts calling out names in New York City.

As splendid as John Wall is, there's a case to be made that Cousins should be drafted above even the great Wall.

You may recall that Cousins and Wall were college teammates. For most of the second half of the 2009-10 season, Kentucky's best player was Big Cuz.

In the world of NBA basketball, size matters.

A space-eating 6-foot-11 center with hands softer than Charmin and who is a rebounding machine ought to be just what the doctor (Jack Ramsay) ordered.

Yet when I toured 12 NBA mock drafts Monday, I couldn't find one that had Cousins going higher than No. 4. Most had him "slipping" to No. 6 or 7.

Clearly, the NBA is scared to death of DeMarcus Cousins.

It shouldn't be.

Let's examine the prime knocks one hears on Big Cuz.

1. Temperament. Cousins is a volatile personality. He led UK in technical fouls. He was involved in a dust-up in the first minute of the super-charged Kentucky-Louisville game. Many times in 2009-10, he seemed on the verge of losing control of himself.

The key words there are "seemed on the verge." The player who came out of Alabama high school basketball with the reputation of being America's No. 1 hot head never fully lost self control in a college game.

This included a matchup against college basketball's No. 1 agent provocateur, Chas McFarland of Wake Forest.

McFarland built a reputation as the most hated player in the ACC with his ability to get under the skin of rivals. Before an NCAA Tournament game, he turned his back on Cousins at midcourt and refused to shake hands in introductions.

In the game, he delivered an unnecessarily hard foul that drove the UK center to the floor.

Big Cuz was not provoked.

In his year in college, Cousins made strides at maintaining his composure under duress. There's no reason to think he can't continue that.

2. Weight. He's not exactly a Dinner Bell Mel, but it is possible weight will be an issue for Cousins. At the NBA's Chicago pre-draft camp, he weighed in at 291 pounds with 16.4 percent body fat (by comparison, Patrick Patterson's body fat was 5.3).

At UK, when Cousins was challenged to prove doubters wrong, he rose to that challenge.

In the NBA, it shouldn't take a motivational genius to figure out how to push that button to keep Cuz trim.

3. Coachability. Cousins is not going to be the easiest player in this draft to coach. But that's a long way from saying he can't be coached.

Early in this past season, Cousins was a bit of a black hole when the ball went to him on the post. Recognizing this, opponents were throwing all manner of double teams at him knowing the big man was a turnover waiting to happen.

By mid-season, Big Cuz had figured that one out to the extent that he was a decent passer out of the post.

That hardly reflects the profile of a player who cannot be taught.

4. Immaturity. Cousins is guilty on this one. Most 19-year-olds are.

Is there a chance that Big Cuz, made an instant millionaire, isn't ready to handle it and sabotages both his career and the front office that picked him?

Sure.

It's also possible — remember Cousins responds to proving doubters wrong — that an NBA team can challenge Big Cuz by telling him the story of Chris Washburn and that everyone expects him to be a 21st century version.

Based on the player I saw at Kentucky, I don't think he's going to be. Which is why any team not drafting John Wall that passes on Cousins is making a mistake.

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