I am still waiting to hear whether DeMarcus Cousins received his invitation to play with the Select Team during the pre-Olympic training camp - that was a mere formality - but was told earlier tonight that USA Basketball czar Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski plan to add two players to the list of Olympic team finalists. Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, LaMarcus Aldridge and Chauncey Billups have all been eliminated from the original pool of 20 candidates for the final 12-man roster because of injury. USAB officials plan to announce the Team USA 2012 roster on June18, but that's not a hard and fast rule. This is basketball. The NBA Playoffs are ongoing. Injuries happen. And USAB doesn't have to submit its official roster to the IOC until the day before the Games.
As of late Tuesday, the plan was to add one wing player and one big man to the list of finalists. Now, while there are plenty of wing players to choose from, the choice of centers and frontcourt players remains thin.
Colangelo told me earlier today that Cousins would be invited to play for the Select Team - players chosen to scrimmage against the Olympic squad at the training camp in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., - and position themselves to be future Olympians. All indications were that the Kings second-year center planned to accept. But if, say, Indiana's Roy Hibbert was added to the list of Olympic finalists ahead of Cousins? That would give him pause. That would really tick him off. While Hibbert has an additional year of NBA experience, the Kings second-year center had a terrific sophomore season and is widely regarded as the better player.
Looking at the numbers: Cousins, 6-foot-10 and a trimmed down 270 pounds, averaged 18 points, 11 rebounds and shot 44 percent in 30 minutes per game in his breakout second season. The Indiana Pacers' Hibbert, who is 7-foot-2 and a better defender, has career averages of 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 29.8 minutes. One other distinguishing factor - Cousins is a terrific passer and the superior offensive player, which would be a major asset on a team that spaced the floor and had abundant shooters. Of course, he is still trying to overcome his image as a troublesome teammate and negative locker room presence. A year ago, some of the characterizations were legitimate. He still needs to stop barking at the refs and temper his reactions - the frowns, the head shakes, the dramatic gestures - but he is not the ogre many perceive.
Those of us who spend a lot of time with him here in Sacramento agree with his mother, Monique - her son is a big teddy bear, a ferocious competitor, with a tremendous sense of humor and instincts for the game. Immature, true. There is some of that. But while USAB officials live in fear of an international incident, I have covered most of the Summer Games since 1992, and I would have no problems putting Cousins on the Olympic team.
One other intriguing element to all of this: Colangelo hired Paul Westphal when both were with the Phoenix Suns, then fired the former Suns star partly because the team featuring our beloved Charles Barkley lacked structure and discipline. And who targeted Cousins as the Kings' biggest problem last season and early this year? It's still hard to believe, given DeMarcus' rapid development, but before he was fired after a 2-5 start, Westphal basically targeted Cousins as the Kings' major problem and pressured management to make a trade. Ouch. Not a good move.
As I write in a column for Wednesday's Bee, I would just reiterate this: Cousins is 21. Life isn't fair. If he is bypassed by a lesser talent for the list of Olympic finalists, he should get over it, accept the invitation to play for the Select Team, and arrive in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., with the mindset of dominating his peers and further establishing his worth.