DeMarcus Cousins: A Singular Man Among (Big) Men

"The downside for Cousins as he transitions to Lexington, is many recruiting evaluators have pointed to his lack of consistent dominance and his propensity for loafing as the game went on, as an example of a player who wasn't focused, had motivation problems, and wasn't playing to his potential."

From the Maple Street Press 2009-2010 Wildcat Tip-Off Annual

DeMarcus Cousins, to the Lexington Herald-Leader, on if he played lazy in high school:

"It really depended on the team (the opponent).  When I played high-profile players, I came to play.  If I was playing against a 'rooty-poop,' I was going along with the motions."

Perhaps no Kentucky player in recent memory has come as far, in such a short period of time, than UK's big man in the middle, DeMarcus Cousins.  Coming out of high school, Cousins wore the much deserved badge of complacency, bordering on uncoachable.  But, from the very beginning of his career in Lexington, Cousins, at least outwardly, has shown himself to be open to coaching, and making himself the best possible player his talents will allow him to be.  Cousins has come so far in both attitude and effort from his high school days, that UK coach John Calipari, when recently speaking of Cousins, said that people who have known the Alabama native for many years think "he isn't the same guy" .... it's as if aliens from some far away galaxy have taken over his body, rendering him a lovable, 6-11, 260 pound teddy bear. 

On the hardwood, the credit for the turnaround in Cousins' effort in practice and games should be given to Calipari, and assistant coach John Robic, who has become something of a mentor to UK's diaper dandy, but ultimately the credit goes to Cousins himself.  For no amount of coaxing, coaching, or yelling and screaming can make a player change so thoroughly, if the player doesn't desire to change. 

Happily, for both player and Big Blue faithful, the evolution of DeMarcus Cousins has brought with it some rather lucrative on-court results.  Cousins is not merely another in a long line of beastly UK big men, no, the rapid improvement in attitude and effort has propelled him to heights rarely seen in the Bluegrass.  Even at Kentucky, where excellence is demanded and generally received, Cousins is seeking to rewrite the record books in permanent ink.  And when his too short stay as a 'Cat is complete, Cousins will cash in the check he's been writing since November of 2009.

How Good Is Cousins?

So just how good is Cousins, when compared to the other great big men (in their initial year of varsity eligibility), who famously dot the Kentucky basketball landscape?  Well, we're going to find out. 

Using minutes played (when available) as the yardstick, let's compare points scored per minutes played, rebounds grabbed per minutes played, and percentage of team's scoring.  Prior to 1962 there are no records for minutes played, and prior to 1950 there are no rebounding records.

Included in this study are players throughout UK history who played near the basket as primarily centers.  Most players are in the 6-8 to 7-0 range, but some players from the earliest eras of UK basketball played the center spot, although they stood only 6-4 or 6-5.  I've also included the pertinent career numbers for each performer, and any All-America or All-SEC accolades bestowed upon the player.

We'll start with Cousins' freshman performance, and continue the examination from the latest performers to the oldest, beginning with a look at how the players performed in their initial year in a UK uniform:

DeMarcus Cousins: 6-11, 260 lbs (2010) -- 521 minutes played in 24 games; 393 points, 243 rebounds = .754 points per minute, .466 rebounds per minute.  Team points = 1,959; Cousins has scored 20.1% of team's points.  Team rebounds = 1,016; Cousins has corralled 23.9% of team's rebounds.  Freshman Season Averages: 16.4 points per game, 10.1 rebounds per game.

Melvin Turpin: 6-11, 240 lbs (1981) -- 380 minutes played in 28 games; 131 points, 106 rebounds = .345 ppm, .279 rpm.  Team points = 2,040; Turpin scored 6.4% of team's points.  Team rebounds = 995; Turpin corralled 10.7% of team's rebounds.  Freshman Season Averages: 4.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg.  Turpin Career ('81-'84): In 3,327 minutes played in 123 games, Turpin scored 1,509 points and grabbed 730 rebounds = .454 ppm, .219 rpm.  Career Averages (four years): 12.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg.  Turpin was an All-America in both 1983 and 1984.

Sam Bowie: 7-1, 230 lbs (1980) -- 886 minutes played in 34 games; 440 points, 276 rebounds = .497 ppm, .312 rpm.  Team points = 2,685; Bowie scored 16.4% of team's points.  Team rebounds = 1,265; Bowie corralled 21.8% of team's rebounds.  Freshman Season Averages: 12.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg.  Bowie Career ('80-'81, '84): In 2,761 minutes played in 96 games, Bowie scored 1,285 points and grabbed 843 rebounds = .465 ppm, .305 rpm.  Career Averages (three years): 13.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg.  Bowie was an All-America in 1981 and 1984.

Rick Robey: 6-10, 235 lbs (1975) -- 616 minutes played in 31 games; 321 points, 214 rebounds = .521 ppm, .347 rpm.  Team points = 2,858; Robey scored 11.2% of team's points.  Team rebounds = 1,442; Robey corralled 14.8% of team's rebounds.  Freshman Season Averages: 10.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg.  Robey Career ('75-'78): In 2,711 minutes played in 105 games, Robey scored 1,395 points and grabbed 838 rebounds = .515 ppm, .309 rpm.  Career Averages (four years): 13.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg.  Robey was an All-America in 1977 and 1978. 

Mike Phillips: 6-10, 235 lbs (1975) -- 442 minutes played in 31 games; 242 points, 136 rebounds = .548 ppg, .308 rpm.  Team points = 2,858; Phillips scored 8.5% of team's points.  Team rebounds = 1,442; Phillips corralled 9.4% of team's rebounds.  Freshman Season Averages: 7.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg.  Phillips Career ('75-'78): In 2,518 minutes played in 120 games, Phillips scored 1,367 points and grabbed 755 rebounds = .543 ppm, .299 rpm.  Career Averages (four years): 11.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg.  Phillips was All-SEC in 1976, 1977, and 1978.

Jim Andrews: 6-11, 235 lbs (1971) -- 306 minutes played in 24 games; 156 points, 120 rebounds = .510 ppm, .392 rpm.  Team points = 2,670; Andrew scored 5.8% of team's points.  Team rebounds = 1,340; Andrews corralled 8.9% of team's rebounds.  Sophomore Season Averages: 6.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg.  Andrews Career ('71-'73): In 2,259 minutes played in 80 games, Andrews scored 1,320 points and grabbed 783 rebounds = .584 ppm, .347 rpm.  Career Averages (three years): 16.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg.  Andrews was First Team All-SEC in 1972 and 1973.  

Tom Payne: 7-2, 235 lbs (1971) -- 816 minutes played in 28 games; 473 points, 283 rebounds = .579 ppm, .347 rpm.  Team points = 2,670; Payne scored 17.7% of team's points.  Team rebounds = 1,340; Payne corralled 21.1% of team's rebounds.  Sophomore Season Averages: 16.9 ppg, 10.1 rpg.  Payne only played one season at UK before declaring for the NBA Draft.  Payne was First Team All-SEC in 1971.

Dan Issel: 6-8, 240 lbs (1968) -- 836 minutes played in 27 games; 444 points, 328 rebounds = .531 ppm, .392 rpm.  Team points = 2,400; Issel scored 18.5% of team's points.  Team rebounds = 1,333; Issel corralled 24.6% of team's rebounds.  Sophomore Season Averages: 16.4 ppg, 12.1 rpg.  Issel Career ('68-'70): In 2,943 minutes played in 83 games, Issel scored 2,138 points and grabbed 1,078 rebounds = .726 ppm, .366 rpm.  Career Averages (three years): 25.8 ppg, 12.9 rpg.  Issel was an All-America in 1969 and 1970.

Cotton Nash: 6-5, 220 lbs (1962) -- No minutes played record for sophomore season.  Nash scored 608 points and grabbed 345 rebounds in 26 games in his sophomore year = 23.4 ppg, 13.3 rpg.  In Nash's final two years, he played a combined 1,964 minutes in 52 games, scoring 1,162 points and snagging 617 rebounds = .592 ppm, .314 rpm.  Nash's career ('62-'64): 22.7 ppg, 12.3 rpg.  Nash was an All-America in 1962, 1963, and 1964.

No minutes played record for any of the following players, and no rebounding records prior to 1950.

Bob Burrow: 6-7, 215 lbs (1955) Burrow was a JUCO transfer, arriving at UK with two years of eligibility remaining -- Burrow played in 26 games in his first year with the 'Cats, scoring 495 points and corralling 459 rebounds = 19.0 ppg, 17.7 rpg.  Team points = 1,987; Burrow scored 24.9% of team's points.  Team rebounds = 1,680; Burrow snagged 27.3% of team's rebounds.  Burrow Career ('55-'56): In 51 games, Burrow scored 1,023 points and grabbed 823 rebounds = 20.1 ppg, 16.1 rpg.  Burrow was an All-America in 1955 and 1956.

Bill Spivey: 7-0, 230 lbs (1950) In 30 games played in his sophomore year, Spivey scored 578 points = 19.3 ppg.  Team points = 2,089; Spivey scored 27.7% of team's points.  For his career, Spivey played in 63 games, scoring 1,213 points = 19.3 ppg.  Spivey was an All-America in 1950 and 1951.  His senior season, which would have been the 1952 season, Spivey sat out nearly half the season following knee surgery, and the remaining portion of the year due to an upcoming NCAA investigation.

Alex Groza: 6-7, 220 lbs (1947 -- Groza was drafted into the Army in 1944, thus, he only played in 10 games his freshman year.  He returned to UK for the 1947 season) In 37 games played in his sophomore year, Groza scored 393 points = 10.6 ppg.  Team points = 2,536; Groza scored 15.5% of team's points.  Groza Career ('45, '47-'49): In 120 games, Groza scored 1,744 points = 14.5 ppg.  Groza was an All-America in 1947, 1948, and 1949. 

Bob Brannum: 6-5, 205 lbs (Brannum played his freshman year at UK - 1944 - and then spent two years in the Army.  He returned to UK for the 1947 season, then transferred to Michigan State)  In his Freshman year, Brannum scored 254 points in 21 games = 12.1 ppg.  Team points = 1,095; Brannum scored 23.2% of team's points.  Brannum Career ('44, '47): In 50 games, Brannum scored 379 points = 7.6 ppg.  Brannum was an All-America in 1944.

Leroy Edwards: 6-4, 215 lbs (1935)  In his sophomore season, Edwards scored 343 points in 21 games = 16.3 ppg.  Team points = 985; Edwards scored 34.8% of team's points.  Edwards only played one year at UK, opting to play professional basketball instead of returning for his final two years.  Edwards was an All-America in 1935.

John DeMoisey: 6-4 (no weight listed) (1932)  DeMoisey had to sit out a portion of his sophomore year due to academics: In 12 games played, DeMoisey scored 142 points = 11.8 ppg.  Team points = 1,126; DeMoisey scored 25.7% of team's points.  DeMoisey Career ('32-'34): In 53 games, DeMoisey scored 640 points = 12.1 ppg.  DeMoisey was an All-America in 1934.

Forest Sale: 6-4 (no weight listed) (1931) In his sophomore year, Sale played in only nine games, scoring 62 points = 6.9 ppg.  Sale Career ('31-'33): In 50 games, Sale scored 627 points = 12.5 ppg.  Sale was an All-America in 1932 and 1933. 

Statistics gathered from Jon Scott's UK basketball database, or the University of Kentucky Basketball Media Guide.

No player listed, in his first year as a 'Cat, comes within a long mile of matching Cousins' freshman production.  His .754 points per minute mark is tucked safely away from Tom Payne's next best effort of .579 points per minute played.  Cousins' .466 rebounds per minute played is similarly safe; Dan Issel places a distant second with .392 rebounds per minute in his sophomore year.  Of course Issel's career points per minute record of .726 is almost unbelievable.  For a player to score at that pace over an entire career, is quite an achievement, regardless of when it occurred.

** In his sophomore season ('62), Cotton Nash averaged over 23 points per game, but as stated above, there are no minutes played records prior to 1963.  But, he averaged 37.7 combined minutes per game for his junior and senior seasons.  If one uses that figure, 37.7 minutes per game, and plugs it into Nash's sophomore year, he averages .620 points per minute, which would be close to Cousins' .754.

Cousins is closing in on the following UK freshman records: Most points -- Cousins, with 393 points (16.4 points per game), is currently second to the 464 points Rex Chapman (16.0 ppg) scored in 1987 (71 points behind) ... Most rebounds -- Cousins with 242 rebounds (10.1 rebounds per game) is 35 behind Chris Mills mark of 277 (8.7 rpg) set in 1989 ... Most blocks -- Cousins has 44 blocks (1.8 per game) which is 35 behind Jamal Magloire's 79 blocks (1.9 bpg) set in 1997 ... Most free throw attempts -- Dwight Anderson had 181 in 1979 (6.2 per game), Cousins is only 13 back, with 168 free throw attempts (7.0 per game).  

All the attention, all the accolades that are coming Cousins' way, are well-deserved.  The young man has shown himself to be a quick read in the ways and means of playing winning college basketball.  When before, he wouldn't have cracked the book.  It's nice to see his hard work and altered outlook manifest itself in such a public venue, allowing us all to be entertained and awed by the player we see. 

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!

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