Photo slideshow: DeMarcus Cousins’ team advances in The Basketball Tournament
Amid all the wheeling and dealing done in the NBA this summer, former Kentucky standout DeMarcus Cousins got a small taste of it himself in putting together his own squad for this weekend’s The Basketball Tournament at Frederick Douglass High School.
“It feels good to be back (in Lexington). I feel like an 18-year-old kid again,” Cousins said Friday. “I’m super excited for this opportunity for not only myself, but the guys who are actually putting in work on the floor — exciting times ahead.”
Cousins’ team and seven others are bracketed in the Lexington Regional of the TBT, which began Friday afternoon at Douglass with its semifinals and finals broadcast on ESPN’s networks. The winner gets a portion of the Douglass gate receipts and moves onto the national quarterfinals next month in Chicago for a shot at a winner-take-all $2 million prize.
“It’s pretty cool. You kind of get to work behind the scenes,” Cousins said of his role as general manager for his “Loyalty is Love” team. “When I’m in the league I don’t really see the GMs being interviewed. They kind of sit in the crowd and don’t talk, so I was hoping that would be my role,” he added, smiling.
Cousins sat on a press table courtside, dressed in a colorful bucket hat, white T-shirt and what looked to be vintage 1991 NBA All-Star Game shorts as his team went through its shoot-around Friday morning at Douglass. Though he took a few shots and horsed around a bit with his own team and his friends on the Kentucky-player-laden Bluegrass Boys, he said there was no chance he’d be on the floor this weekend.
“No!” Cousins said emphatically. “I don’t start basketball until late September.”
When he does, he will be a Los Angeles Laker, playing alongside fellow UK phenom and his former New Orleans Pelicans teammate Anthony Davis and some guy named LeBron James.
Cousins spent half of last season recovering from a torn Achilles tendon before making a run to the NBA Finals with Golden State. A free agent after their Finals loss, Cousins’ move to the Lakers was just a small part of one of the wildest offseasons in terms of player movement in league history.
“It’s one for the books for sure,” Cousins said. “There hasn’t been a summer like this ever. I’m pretty sure ya’ll have been entertained all summer. It’s going to be exciting to see all these new faces and new teams.”
As for the team he put together for the TBT, Cousins said he likes its length and versatility. He has five guys over 6-foot-10, including his brother Jaleel and former UK teammate Daniel Orton who played behind Cousins on Coach John Calipari’s first batch of Wildcats.
“This dude is still crazy as hell — same D.O. from back in the day,” Cousins said of Orton. “It’s been fun to reminisce about old times and talk about the younger days. It’s been a while since I’ve been around D.O., but like I said, it’s been real good.”
For Orton, being back in Lexington has been “surreal” as much has changed in town since he was drafted as the 29th overall pick by the Orlando Magic in 2010 after his one season with the Cats. Orton bounced around the NBA and the G League for a while before venturing overseas to continue his playing career. He said he didn’t hesitate signing up for the TBT after getting a call from Cousins.
“It seemed like everything was just coming back full circle. It seemed perfect,” Orton said. “I just missed (seeing) Cal, so that was tough, but Coach (Robic) was in the office so I got to chat it up with him a little bit.”
Orton also got a look at all the changes to UK’s basketball facilities since he left.
“You’re kind of envious because I wish we had these amenities, but at the same time it’s good to see everything changing for guys behind us,” he said.
As general manager, Cousins would get a share of the prize money, but his involvement primarily stems from his deal with Puma, a major sponsor of the TBT.
“The idea came up in a company meeting and I was all for it,” Cousins said. “I’ve always had kind of a dream of putting together my own team in a general manager role, so this is kind of a test run for me. I think I put a pretty decent team together, so we’ll see what happens.
“I don’t think people realize how competitive this tournament’s going to be. We’ve got guys playing for their livelihood, and they’re going to leave it all on the line. I’m excited for some good competitive basketball.”
Cousins’ team won its opening game Friday afternoon, defeating the Chicago-based Hoopville Warriors 107-98.
Loyalty Is Love advanced to Saturday’s 4 p.m. semifinal game, in which it will face the Fort Wayne Champs. Fort Wayne advanced Friday with a 96-59 win over Showtime.
The Basketball Tournament
Lexington Regional schedule
At Frederick Douglass High School
▪ No. 3 Fort Wayne Champs 96, No. 6 Showtime 59
▪ No. 1 Loyalty is Love 107, No. 8 Hoopville Warriors 98
▪ No. 4 KBC 94, No. 5 Peoria All-Stars 82
▪ No. 7 D2 77, No. 2 Bluegrass Boys 62
4 p.m.: No. 1 Loyalty is Love vs. No. 4 KBC (ESPN2)
6 p.m.: No. 3 Fort Wayne Champs vs. No. 7 D2 (ESPN2)
2 p.m.: Championship game (ESPN)
Available at the gate or online at thetournament.com/tickets ($20 general admission; $13 each for Family Four Pack; $10 age 13 and under; $15 student/military with ID; $75 courtside)