LAS VEGAS – Day 1 of Team USA’s training camp was point guards.
Day 2 is frontcourt bigs.
Right now, it seems as though the consensus is condor-like Anthony Davis is the only sure thing to make the 12-man roster going to Spain for the World Cup. After that, everything else is up in the air.
The other candidates are power forwards Kenneth Faried and Paul Millsap and centers Andre Drummond and DeMarcus Cousins. And the guy I want to talk about is Cousins.
Cousins should make the squad. He is a very important player if this version of Team USA is going to win gold, especially if it runs up against Spain and its formidable front line of the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka.
I have a soft spot in my heart for guys like Cousins, whose reputation precedes him. But here’s a story about another guy whose reputation preceded him – and who turned out OK.
This was many years ago. For the first time, I was recommended by current Team USA assistant and Hall of Fame Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim to be a court coach for the U.S. Pre-Olympic Trials in Colorado Springs. My team featured Chris Bosh, Kris Humphries, Andre Iguodala and Aaron Brooks.
You get the picture. My job was simply to not screw them up. Luckily we went undefeated for the week and I avoided becoming the first coach to lose with an entire lineup of future NBA players.
The fifth starter was an inner-city kid with braided hair who showed up late, always had his headphones on, never turned off his cellphone, didn’t tuck in his jersey and displayed terrible body language. Basically, he pissed off the coaches and administration to no end.
After the sessions were over, the coaches and USA Basketball braintrust got together to go about selecting the team. The coaches were instructed to speak up only if they felt extremely strong about something or someone – strong enough to put your absolute reputation on the line.
I won’t start rattling off the attendees. Hindsight is always 20-20, and no one who was in the room that day would ever admit today that they voted to cut Carmelo Anthony.
I had spent a fair amount of time recruiting Anthony. I knew him beyond the bad impression he had left on the USA Basketball powers-that-be over the last week. I also knew Boeheim wasn’t arriving in Colorado Springs until the next day. So I jumped up in the meeting and put my reputation on the line.
“I know it’s not my place, but I did coach him for the week,” I said. “I think he is being unfairly judged and scrutinized because of his background and habits. If you leave him off this team, it will be a travesty. He will be a one-and-done type player and someday will be one of the best in the NBA.”
A self-serving story? Somewhat. But it’s also true.
No one really cared what I had to say. But the next day, when Boeheim showed up and I passed along everyone’s thoughts and feelings about Anthony, well … let’s just say Coach B went off and the rest is history.
The point is that anyone can coach the teacher’s pets. It’s guys like DeMarcus Cousins who will bring out a great leader of men like Team USA’s Mike Krzyzewski.
Anyone can coach the players that grew up in two-parent households and have gotten all the breaks. Anyone can coach the kids who do their schoolwork and their chores and go to bed at a decent hour after milk and cookies. Where coaching truly comes in is trying to motivate guys like Cousins to reach their potential both on and off the floor.
Coach K will get through to Cousins where others haven’t. Cousins not only will make this team, he will be – in my humble but lifelong basketball savant’s opinion – the difference in winning the gold medal.
I also have spent time recruiting and following Cousins through the years. Like Anthony, I have always felt he was an unfairly maligned and misunderstood player with a great heart. I understand all the talk about his image, perception, body language and especially his temperament.
And I also have seen Cousins in the last few days here in Vegas, with so much at stake, so many eyes on him and so much scrutiny he is under – trying to show everyone he won’t get frustrated, or scream at referees, or punch the wall, as he did today once.
Having worked with USA Basketball as a college coach on two separate occasions, I especially understand the sensitive nature of not wanting an “Ugly American” incident or public relations negativity. The players must conduct themselves professionally, both off and on the court.
I am acutely aware that we live in a time where social media often makes reputation or perception bigger than reality. I have had close friends tell me, “Bobby, there are coaches and players that have great perceptions and reputations that behind the scenes aren’t really such great people who the media or everyone thinks they are. Then there are those coaches and players that have very bad reputations and perceptions that are way better people than the media or anyone ever can imagine because for a variety of reasons, they have been misunderstood or unfairly judged.”
The people closest to me – the ones that really, truly know me – understand that I have always been part of the second group. And because of that, I feel compelled to root for Cousins, not only make the team and be the successful great player his immense talent holds, but also to prove to the doubters that he is a wonderful young man who deserves success.
All the rest is nonsense.
Here’s five more takeaways from Tuesday:
1. One of the reasons Coach K is the gold standard is he covers the details. Today, he worked on free throw boxout situations with different scenarios for stealing a missed free throw. I couldn’t help but think to myself that he was doing this with the best players in the world. This is why Coach K wins – because he leaves no stone unturned.
2. Not since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook have I seen a more impossible shot to block than Kevin Durant’s jumper. With his 6-10 height and remarkable length, when he decides to raise up it is absolutely impossible to block his shot, regardless of who the defender is or how tightly he is guarding. When Durant shoots, he will make or miss. But it will have nothing to do with anything or anyone else.
3. I did manage to watch the point guards a bit. Damian Lillard was disappointing, and there was a stretch where both Marcus Smart and Victor Oladipo of the Select Team flat-out took it to Wizards teammates John wall and Bradley Beal.
4. To win the gold medal, Team USA needs a dead-eye shooting specialist. Kyle Korver has to be on this team.
5. Yes, I was surprised Gordon Hayward received a max contract. However, he is the ultimate blend guy because of his versatility, skill level and basketball IQ. He may run the floor better and more effectively than any wing I’ve seen since a young Ray Allen. Maybe Hayward is a max player.
Bobby Gonzalez is a former NCAA Division I coach with Manhattan and Seton Hall. He has been writing columns for SheridanHoops since March 2014.