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DeMarcus Cousins: The Unfounded Fear of the Boogie Man

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DeMarcus Cousins is a supremely talented basketball player and an even better person. He gets an unfair rap and the cowardice, ignorance, and laziness of his detractors needs to be addressed

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Note: This was posted back in 2015, but with Boogie being traded to the Pelicans, we're revisiting the 'fear' many have around one of the NBA's best big men.

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The score was 64-61 and the time on the clock read 4.9 seconds left.  The Kentucky Wildcats trailed the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the SEC Championship and Eric Bledsoe was stepping to the line.  After making the first one, he intentionally missed the second one to give the ‘Cats a chance to get the rebound.

The ball was tipped out; John Wall ran it down and heaved a long three for the win.  The shot barely drew iron... all in one motion, DeMarcus Cousins was able to rebound, control, and put back the tying shot with fractions of a second left.

Cousins began a joyous sprint to the other end of the court with his teammates in tow.  John Wall finally caught up to him and leapt to the top of his towering frame and they both went down to form the base of a pile of ecstatic Wildcats underneath a press table.

To be a member of the Big Blue Nation is to know this moment intimately, it is to know that this was a microcosm of the "Boogie" Cousins we all enjoyed that season.  Cousins is a guy who wants to win more than anything and he gave his heart for the blue and white.  Cousins' loyalty and effort to the Kentucky program is something no fan will soon forget and he will long be a fan favorite.

Ask BBN to describe DeMarcus Cousins in one word and you will get adjectives such as passionate, misunderstood, lovable, happy, generational, and genuine.  Ask any of his many detractors and you will get words like thug, volatile, immature, crybaby, and even criminal.

Well, to be fair I only know of one guy who used criminal and Cousins destroyed him five years later for it.

"I'm a thug," Cousins said. "I'm a bad guy, a criminal. I know that's what people say about me, people that don't know me.

"Nothing could be further from the truth."

Cousins' journey has been a long and rough one, he has never received the benefit of the doubt, and he continues to be scrutinized to this day.  The most recent incident being new Kings head coach George Karl wanting to trade DeMarcus Cousins.

This is the same DeMarcus Cousins who was an All-Star and an Olympic medalist, the same Cousins who has averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds since the day he walked across the podium and donned a Sacramento hat.

There are an increasing number of media members who are coming around to understanding there is much more to Cousins than meets the eye, however, there are many more still who continue to brand him an immature thug who will not thrive until he grows up.

There are fans and self-appointed talking heads not willing to give Cousins the benefit of the doubt and they are certainly entitled to their opinion; but I have an opinion of my own for those detractors.

For most media members, it is a very simple issue; ignorance and laziness.  For those detractors who actually have a chance to mold DeMarcus via coaching or guidance; it is ignorance and cowardice.

I will touch on that later.

GROWING UP BOOGIE

DeMarcus Cousins and his five other siblings grew up in a rough neighborhood where shootings and violence were the norm.  More than one of Cousins' high school friends either used drugs, sold them, or both.  He had one particular guy he looked up to, who was a senior on the basketball team, arrested for a string of armed robberies.  To say he had an uphill battle to get where he is would be akin to saying LeBron James had a decent stat line in the 2015 NBA Finals.

Believe it or not, Cousins did not have dreams of dominating the NBA growing up... no, like any kid from the state of Alabama; he had dreams of making it in the NFL.  In an amazing moment of self-awareness for a teenager, Cousins gave up football in the eighth grade and admits that he just did not have what it takes be a football player.

"I had to accept I sucked"

It was then that his attention was turned to the hardwood by AAU coach Danny Pritchett.  Pritchett approached the 6'6" Cousins (thinking he was a senior) and asked if he knew of any eighth graders who may be interested in basketball.  Cousins dropped Pritchett's jaw when he told him that he himself was in the eighth grade.

In Cousins' very first game as a freshman in high school, he "messed around and got a triple double"...  by his sophomore year he was ranked the #1 player in his class in the nation.

The day he received the ranking is the day things changed for Cousins.  He began seeing two things manifest; teams were forming game plans to beat, scratch, and claw him until he lost his temper.  (During Cousins final two seasons in high school, his front teeth were knocked out FOUR times) Secondly, people were starting to look at him as a meal ticket.

Things would get tough for Boogie early into that sophomore year after he got into an altercation with a faculty member on the bus.  Cousins is adamant he was defending himself:

"If a grown man puts his hands on you, you're either going to defend yourself or get mad and react in some type of way" said Cousins.

Think back to when you were 15 years old, if you were bigger than the adult that put hands on you, what would you do?  The problem is the incident haunted him like a bad dream, he ended up being suspended for the remainder of his sophomore year after the fight.

That following summer he received a ticket in the mail for battery for a confrontation where he was not even a participant.  The charges were eventually dropped but the court of public opinion was already prosecuting him.

It was before, during, and after these incidents that Cousins was going through a period where everyone seemed to be recruiting him for every reason other than to help him.  Faculty members with ties to other AAU teams would even recruit Cousins in the halls at school.

They would use shoes and money as bribes to try and lure him away from Pritchett.  There were even colleges already calling his mother Monique and claiming they would take care of her if he would go ahead and sign with them.

Cousins had no interest in the offers being thrown his way.  He had been given his first chance by Coach Pritchett and remained loyal to him for giving him the leg up.

"People were using me," Cousins said.  "They were taking advantage of me and trying to buy me.  Coach Danny and I came up together.  He took a chance on me and I wasn't going to leave him, but when I didn't people threw dirt on my name and tried to walk over me."

The tone was set for Cousins to put up a wall for anyone trying to use him for their gain and being exceedingly loyal for those looking out for him.

By the time his junior season was about to start, Cousins was deemed ineligible to play for his high school due to accusations that first-year coach Robi Coker had recruited Cousins to come and play for him.

The past incidents combined with the ineligibility, the rumors and whispers, and the generally terrible behavior from everyone around Cousins and his family became overwhelming.  Cousins' mother packed him up and they moved back to Mobile, where he was born, for his final two seasons of high school basketball.

There he would catch on with LeFlore high school and coach Otis Hughley.  Hughley treated Cousins with respect and demanded excellence.  Cousins would thrive in this environment.  Hughley would pick up Cousins every Sunday for church with his family as a way to learn more about him and guide him.

LeFlore did not have a gym so they played all road games, meaning A LOT of travel time for Cousins and Hughley. Cousins had a great two seasons, with only the occasional talk back to the coach being the only issues.

He also never overreacted or got ejected from games despite having his front teeth knocked out four times in those two seasons.  Hughley had this to say about Cousins:

"DeMarcus isn't a tough kid," he said. "On the court he may be tough, but off the court he's scared of the dog. He's not a wussy kid, but he's a sweet kid. I don't know anyone that's met him that doesn't like him.

"My son sees him on TV now and almost starts crying: ‘I miss DeMarcus.'"

THE NEXT LEVEL

Cousins was headed to the University of Alabama-Birmingham before John Calipari convinced him to come to Memphis, and subsequently Lexington.  One of the major reasons he made the decision to join BBN was to leave the state of Alabama altogether for a fresh start.

It became clear that John Calipari would continue Hughley's mentorship by providing the blueprint to how to coach and develop Cousins: Love him like a son, hold him accountable, and do not let him get in his own way.  Cal was hard on Cousins, but it was clearly with the development of DeMarcus in mind.  Cousins responds well to genuine guidance and anyone trying to help him to a bigger path.

Jaleel Cousins, DeMarcus' younger brother, said,

"If he senses you're fake and you're going to try and use him, he's going to let you know, he's not going to have a bunch of fake people around him."

The genuineness of Coach Cal combined with the passion of the Big Blue Nation turned Cousins into something special for one year in Lexington.  To this day, Cousins will speak with reverence of his Old Kentucky home.  He called it one of the best years of his life, in fact.

DeMarcus Cousins was in a program that was on the biggest stage, with the biggest spotlight, and a giant microscope on him.  He flourished in this environment and it was all due to those around him; his coaches and the fans embraced him for who he was and saw past any implied negative traits and loved DeMarcus for what he was.  To say that Calipari was able to get the buy-in of Cousins is an understatement.

"His whole life, when he was challenged to do stuff he didn't want to do, he'd react like a 13-year-old," Calipari said.  "So when he wasn't in shape and we were doing conditioning, he'd start having fits.

"I'd say, ‘Fine, go on the side until you can finish these drills.  When he figured out that I wasn't budging and that none of it would work with me and that it wasn't going to upset our practice, he slowly started coming around.

"When he found that by getting in shape and doing it right and listening, he was being elevated as a player, he was like, ‘I'm going to listen and do what the guy tells me to do.'"

Calipari said he couldn't be more impressed with Cousins' personality and the way he respects his coaches and teammates.

"He's not some self-absorbed jag-off," Calipari said.  "He's really not.  He's got a huge heart for other people.  He cares about how they feel."

To get an idea of just how much of a good-natured person that Cousins is, you do not have to look far.  In 2013, he took 100 kids on a shopping spree for Christmas.  When he signed his max contract in 2013 the first thing he did was give $1 Million to local charities.  He also hosts a free basketball camp for underprivileged 7-16 year olds.

John Calipari and BBN are not the only entities to feel this way about DeMarcus either.  Many feel that the best coach in all of College Basketball is Mike Krzyzewski from Duke; he had the opportunity to coach DeMarcus on Team USA and had this to say about him.

"All the coaches were really pleased with DeMarcus and how he played," he said.  "Look, his attitude is tremendous because he wouldn't keep coming back to be a part of Team USA if it didn't mean something to him.  We recognize that.

He was in good shape.  He played well.  He was talking on defense.  He was our leading rebounder (in Friday's scrimmage) and he can pass out of the low post."

To have two of the top college coaches of all time claim you have a great attitude carries more than enough weight, you would think.  Coach Cal and Coach K have both made it clear that Cousins can and will flourish in an environment of guidance, accountability, and respect.

CRITICISMS

My blue glasses are as tinted as most, but I will also be one of the first to tell you when Kentucky's players, fans, or coaches deserve criticism.  Boogie has his flaws, the good thing is he knows he has flaws, and he actively works on them.  He knows he needs polish to parts of his professional career.

The fact of the matter is that these perceived negative traits manifest from a life of people trying to use him as a poker chip in the game of life.  He grew up without a father figure and is well aware that only a very few of his coaches and mentors can fit that bill, so he considers everyone a snake until otherwise.  He has a perpetual chip on his shoulder and a wall put up for these reasons.

Cousins is a man who will be your best friend and favorite teammate when the respect is mutual, however, if you try to play a political game or BS him you will feel the scorn.  If you want to know why he does not like the media, just look around at what some of them say about him.  Why do you think they say those things... website hits.

MEDIA

How can a man trust a group of people who mostly record every word he says on the pure hope that it is something that will generate web views en masse.  This is why I think the media that berates him is lazy and ignorant.

If you did any background, you would know where he has come from and what has molded his mentality.  You would know that he truly cares about others more than he does himself, so long as he trusts you, that is.  You would know that few have a bigger heart for children that face a similar uphill battle.

COACHES/MENTORS

The reason I add the cowardice layer to those who coach or influence him is because I feel they are making conscious efforts to not guide him properly. He is not the type of guy who is on cliché autopilot.  He is not the type of guy who has even been coached on how to handle many situations.  He needs that guidance and development, and actually takes effort and transparency to give him that guidance.

They are all afraid of opening up their true selves to a player like Cousins, in fear of what might be seen.  They do not see the immense talent as someone worth their time to try and coach up and guide down a greater path.  In short, they are disingenuous cowards who know it is easier to spit vitriol than it is to take responsibility.

Truth be told, you can learn a lot about a person simply by assessing their reactions and comments to a guy like Cousins.  We need a whole lot more DeMarcus Cousins, John Caliparis, and Mike Krzyzewskis and a lot fewer George Karls, Charles Barkleys and Paul Westphals.