John Clay: Big Cuz benefited from the 'one' before 'done'

They are the personae non gratae, these one-and-dones.

I mean, how dare they? How dare they buck the essence of college basketball? How dare they de-emphasize the value of earning a college degree? How dare they surrender three more years of enrichment for seven-figure riches?

Thing is, when critics knock one-and-dones, they knock them as a group, a faceless group that is not all for one as much as all for themselves.

Then you see DeMarcus Cousins' face.

That goofy face.

"I guess my goofiness became popular," he said Thursday.

The Kentucky freshman held a news conference in Memorial Coliseum. Not much news was made. Cousins is entering the NBA Draft. We knew that. Cousins has hired an agent. We knew that.

"My time here is done," said Cousins.

We knew that, too.

What we didn't know when that time began, and what he didn't know, was how much Big Cuz would grow, not physically, but emotionally. All in one year of college.

"I think I've grown a lot," he said Thursday.

Some snicker. Their view of Cousins is the NCAA Tournament view. They focus on the West Virginia game, of Cousins complaining to officials, of Cousins inadvertently striking Da'Sean Butler where it hurts, of Cousins appearing to argue with his coaching staff.

Those didn't see the Cousins with anger management problems in high school. Those didn't see the Cousins whose attitude and immaturity scared away recruiters. Just not John Calipari.

"I had a lot of tests throughout the season," said Cousins on Thursday. "Some I passed and some I failed. It just helped me grow up as a basketball player and as a man."

We saw that the end-of-the-year DeMarcus was not the start-of-the-year DeMarcus. We got to see a big goofy kid, who wore funny glasses, who loved to make you laugh, who was actually kind of shy, and who was, as Calipari often said, a big teddy bear who only needed to be loved.

Here, he got what he needed.

So what if Cousins had not had this year? What if the NBA had a no age-limit rule? Chances are, coming out of high school, Cousins would have gone pro. He had the body. He had the talent. No doubt he would have had people around him pushing him to take that early leap.

But would it have been a successful leap? Would he have made it as an 18-year-old sitting at the end of an NBA bench, sleeping in hotel rooms, living out of a suitcase, guided by bottom-liners concerned far more about the 82-game grind than the emotions of a man-child.

"Here," said Cousins of Kentucky, "I was just accepted."

As such, Cousins acted Thursday as if he didn't want to depart. It wasn't an act. The perception is all one-and-dones can't wait for the one to be done. Not true. Not all of them. These are kids playing the hand they're dealt. They don't make the rules. They follow the rules. They follow the reality of the rules.

"Coach said, 'You have to go,'" said Cousins of Calipari.

It's easy for us in our middle-income, middle-aged lives to tell any young man from modest to immodest circumstances he should stay in class and give up the cash. We pay our own bills, not their bills. We live in our circumstances, not their circumstances.

Would four years at a university greatly benefit DeMarcus Cousins? Absolutely. But those aren't the circumstances we live in, or that one-and-doners live in. Don't blame them for that. They're not personae non gratae. They're people.

And for the one-and-dones like DeMarcus Cousins, be grateful they got the one.

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