SACRAMENTO - DeMarcus Cousins entertained 180 kids at his annual youth basketball camp at Sacramento High School on Thursday, where he also addressed a wide range of topics about his offseason and the future of the Kings.
Speaking to a select contingent of media, Cousins took about 10 minutes, away from games of "knock out" and basketball drills, to speak about where he sees the Kings organization headed, the challenges ahead and his recent journey through Tinseltown.
Although it's early in the offseason, Cousins has spent the better part of his free time making several stops throughout Hollywood to show the jovial side of his character. He appeared as a guest on "Jimmy Kimmel Live", where he went one-on-one with the popular late-night talk show host with the handicap of having to wear and bang a drum the entire time while playing.
"It's been busy, I've never been in Hollywood that much in my life," Cousins said, laughing. "It's different. I'm not really that type of person, but I'm going with the flow and it's been fun.
"People get to see a side of me that they don't really get to see, or hear about, but I guess it's helping in the end," he added.
Moments like these are little efforts to help his reputation, which is certainly in need of a polishing.
Ever the lightning rod for controversy, Cousins, who will turn 24 in August, is known for his physical play and emotional demeanor, which can be a blessing and a curse. His battles with referees have earned him numerous technical fouls and a few suspensions along the way. Those just crack the surface for his critics who question his maturity, and fuel the fire for a lot of the negativity that has surrounded the face of the Kings franchise.
It's because of that emotion and negativity that made him such a great and ironic addition to Kimmel's popular "Mean Tweets" segment, where celebrities read insulting, and, just plain mean comments from users on Twitter - something Cousins is all to familiar with.
"I think it was hilarious," Cousins laughed. "A lot of us athletes get it pretty bad on social media."
The Kimmel experience was just one of a few national media appearances he's done over the past month. He joined the panel of ESPN's SportsNation where he made light of a lot of his own blunders on the floor, in both the NBA and college. He was also seen spooking people as "The Boogie Man" throughout ESPN's Los Angeles studios. Donning an ugly, frightening Halloween mask, Cousins lurked and crept-up on unsuspecting people before scaring them.
The television appearances have shown the national audience that there's a smile and fun flip-side to the more commonly known gruff demeanor and scowl he wears on the hardwood.
One might even go as far to call him a bully on the court, for well documented incidents with players like Mike Dunleavy, O.J. Mayo and league officials. Yet off the floor, Cousins is joining Hall of Famer and Kings legend Mitch Richmond in his Rock Life anti-bullying campaign.
"I don't think people realize how much bullying has an effect on young kids," Cousins said. "Any part I can take to help end that, I'm with it. I mean, I'm just playing my part for a good cause."
These are certainly examples of the positive growth the Kings organization was hoping for when they committed to Cousins as the face of the franchise last year. The team signed him to a 4-year maximum contract extension worth $62 million. The new deal will begin next season.
Along with that commitment, he took steps to anoint himself the team's leader coming into last season, and since then, Cousins has made strides with teammates and the coaching staff.
"It's refreshing to see DeMarcus in that light," said Kings assistant coach Corliss Williamson, who enrolled two of his children in the Cousins Elite Skills Basketball Camp. "I know he cares about the game. He wants to win and wants to get better."
Williamson, who played 12 seasons in the NBA before becoming a head coach in college, completed his first season as an assistant on Head Coach Michael Malone's staff. He said his perception of Cousins from afar changed after getting to know him.
"You hear a lot of stories and different things, but until you actually step inside a gym with the guy and spend time with him, you get to know him," Williamson said. "And I think he's looking forward to having a great season next year."
Cousins has shown full support of his head coach, noting that Malone takes losing about as bad as any player does, him included. Malone completed his first NBA head coaching season in Sacramento with a record of 28-54.
But it was in their first training camp where Cousins bought in. He felt Malone's camp was the toughest he'd been apart of, and from that moment, he felt Malone was the right fit.
Malone's candor following games was well documented. He could be brutally honest following each game in his assessments of his players and his team's performances. It was all part of his approach to changing the culture within the locker room, and Cousins said he and his coach have strong support for one another.
Despite a stellar 2013-14 season, Cousins felt slighted that he wasn't named to the All-Star team. The team's lack of success and his reputation played a major role in the lack of support around the league. His statistics were no doubt fantastic, rare from the center position, as he averaged career bests with 22.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game, in addition to being one of the league's most efficient players.
Since the All-Star snub, Cousins sounds as if he's moved beyond those frustrations and is thinking more about the success of the team, rather than personal achievement. He hopes his teammates will follow suit.
"We've all got to have the same goal in mind, we can't have our side motives, have out own little goals," Cousins said. "The main goal should be winning games and making the playoffs. We shouldn't be worried about who's getting paid this year or whatever the case may be. Who's putting up numbers, whatever. We all should be worried about making the playoffs and winning as a team."
Rudy Gay's role figures to be a major piece to the future success of the team. He has been identified as the top priority of the offseason by the team, and Cousins agrees.
Gay has until June 30 to decide whether to opt out of his remaining year worth $19.2 million with the Kings, which will make him an unrestricted free agent. The front office would like to retain Gay beyond the remaining season and sign him long-term.
"I have reached out to Rudy, and we've talked and he knows that I want him back," Cousins said. "I need him on this ride and at the end of the day, it's a decision he has to make for him and his family. We can only hope for the best and if he goes another way, I'll wish him the best, but hopefully he's in a Sacramento Kings uniform next season."
The aggressiveness shown by Kings General Manager Pete D'Alessandro and his front office staff to overhaul the roster by making multiple moves during last season was applauded.
"It's definitely something I was not used to," Cousins said. "I love the way our front office is. They're about making things happen and we're not trying to wait three to four years, we want it now and that's how it should be."
As he heads in to his fifth NBA season - all with Sacramento, Cousins was very encouraged to be joined by so many Kings teammates in town this week for voluntary workouts at the team's practice facility. Ben McLemore, Ray McCallum, Derrick Williams, Quincy Acy, Travis Outlaw, Jared Cunningham and Willie Reed have joined Cousins this week inside the team's practice facility for voluntary workouts.
"A lot of people don't know it, but there's a lot at stake right now in Sacramento," said Cousins, when asked about what excites him most about the team. "The future is bright for us and I'm excited to see where this team and this organization is going."
Next month, the plan is for Cousins to meet up with the Kings in Las Vegas, to workout and help prepare the team for Summer League. Two weeks later, he'll rejoin Team USA camp in Vegas, where his vision is set on making the final roster to play in August in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain.
Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond pose as the biggest threat at his position in the battle to make the final Team USA roster.
"I'm not worried about the competition, I'm worried about myself," Cousins said. "I'm going to try and go in there and be the best player in the camp."
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