Cousins seen by some as relatively risky move
Since he danced and pranced around overmatched fellow high school standouts in the Jordan All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden a year ago, John Wall has been considered the top pick in the 2010 NBA draft.
Not much has changed since then, but John Greig believes Wall is hardly a cinch. The former Sonics forward represents DeMarcus Cousins, an immensely gifted bull of a center who was Wall’s teammate at Kentucky last season and turned in a sparkling freshman year.
Now the two are competing to be the No. 1 pick, and Greig believes the 6-foot-11-inch, 270-pound Cousins presents even more of an upside than Wall. What is causing teams to pause when considering Cousins is the question of maturity, the possibility of him turning into the next Oliver Miller or Stanley Roberts instead of Tim Duncan.
Cousins is the kind of big man that teams crave, and he doesn’t turn 20 until August. With the ability to create space in the paint, a nice shooting touch, and a mean streak, the Alabama native is tempting for teams seeking size.
But the maturity issues are scaring teams, and instead of being talked about at No. 1, Cousins may be competing with Derrick Favors, Wesley Johnson, and Evan Turner for No. 2. Greig asks why.
“There isn’t anybody in the NBA with the same physical characteristics that he has,’’ Greig said. “If ESPN and John Calipari hadn’t had blue pompoms out for Wall all year and they had equally praised both players, who would be No. 1?
“The teams that had done their proper homework, they would take him No. 1.’’
New Jersey will have the most lottery balls and the best chance of landing the top pick. And the Nets have an emerging young center in Brook Lopez, so they would likely take Wall and trade Devin Harris. Minnesota, Sacramento, and Golden State are next in line — as things stand — and each could use a young center, but that’s where Cousins’s reputation may hurt him.
“When you draft a guy that high, you are hoping that you get some level of maturity,’’ said an Eastern Conference scout, “unless the talent outweighs whatever concerns you might have, which is very rare.
“I am not so certain all the teams feel [Cousins’s] talent would outweigh the character and maturity issues.’’
Cousins has displayed a surly court demeanor, even punching a Louisville player in a scramble. Some NBA scouts believe he would have benefited from another year at Kentucky, but Greig said he is a typical 19-year-old.
“How many players are out there that give you the squeaky clean in front of the camera and what’s really going on is something else?’’ Greig said. “I know he’s big and looks like a man amongst boys and he plays with an edge. I understand that.
“He don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Don’t do drugs. He is not a big-time partier. They got him wrong.
“John Wall’s rolling around in a Range Rover right now; good for him. DeMarcus isn’t rolling around in anything. You ask him what he wants to do with his money — ‘Save,’ he said. Anything that’s been said about off the court is plain wrong.’’
With so many not-ready-for-prime-time players in the draft, teams have to be extra cautious when a prospect comes with red flags.
Still, Cousins averaged nearly a double-double and helped lead the youthful Wildcats to the Elite Eight. The success of players such as Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins should help him. He is scheduling workouts with interested teams as he splits time between Washington, D.C., and Seattle, and the best thing for Cousins to do is to keep a low profile and impress teams in those workouts.
“The fact that we are even talking about this means that there’s something out there,’’ the Eastern Conference scout said. “The other guys in his range do not have this concern.
“The other issue is his weight. He played — I think if you ask most NBA people — he played an entire season out of shape. He played successfully. He’s going to have to convince teams that not only can he get to a certain weight but that he wants to.
“I don’t think there are any scouts that are debating his talent, but when you start talking about using a pick in the top 10, you have to be a franchise player for a team to say, ‘We know [the issues] are there but we just can’t pass on him.’ ’’
NBA commissioner David Stern said he supported the Suns’ “protest,’’ and it’s about time modern athletes took a page from their forefathers and stood up for something besides higher salaries and guaranteed contracts.
“The recent passage of the new immigration law in Arizona is disappointing and disturbing,’’ said Players Association president Billy Hunter in a statement. “Any attempt to encourage, tolerate, or legalize racial profiling is offensive and incompatible with basic notions of fairness and equal protection. A law that unfairly targets one group is ultimately a threat to all.’’
In addition, Suns managing general partner Robert Sarver told the Arizona Republic that this was not “the right way to handle the immigration problem, No. 1. No. 2, as I read through the bill, it felt to me a little bit like it was mean-spirited, and I personally just don’t agree with it.’’
Once upon a time, Arizona voted against observing the Martin Luther King holiday, and in response the NFL withdrew a Super Bowl from Sun Devil Stadium.
Before that, though, the University of California had qualified for its first bowl game in 11 years, the 1990 Copper Bowl (now the Insight Bowl) in Tucson. Many campus leaders believed the Golden Bears should boycott the game. But a young reporter who now writes this column suggested they play in the game but increase awareness by doing interviews and wearing patches on their uniforms.
The Bears played wearing black MLK armbands to make their point. And they defeated Wyoming, 17-15.
The Suns made their point, too, and their actions did not detract from the primary purpose, as they beat the Spurs, 110-102, in Game 2 of their playoff series.
There are occasions where sports and politics blend well, and this was one of them.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.