Connection with John Calipari still holds strong for DeMarcus Cousins

John Calipari at Team USA Training Camp 2014 (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

LAS VEGAS – In his first season as head coach at the University of Kentucky, John Calipari would often hear it from his wife. “Stop yelling at DeMarcus,” she would say to him.

During Cousins’ lone season in Lexington, Ellen Calipari would give her husband a hard time for chewing out his former protege. He was too harsh on him, she felt.

“She says everybody else messes up and you only seem to yell at him,” coach Calpari said following USA Basketball mini-camp on Wednesday.

It was tough love from a man who still sees Cousins as one of his own. Calipari refers to Cousins, along with other former players he’s coached throughout his lengthy career, as his “son.” And like any parent would be, Calipari remains optimistic about the Sacramento Kings starting center’s future.

“At the end of the day, he was really an effective college player,” Calipari said. “And he’s got a chance at being special.”

Calipari arrived in Las Vegas to take in the sights and sounds of USA Basketball training camp at the Mendenhall Center. Outside of Cousins, the UK coach has three others (Derrick Rose, John Wall and Anthony Davis) competing for a chance to represent their country in next month’s FIBA World Cup in Spain.

“That’s the thing about Cal,” Cousins said of his old college coach. “No matter how long ago it was you played for him, he’s always gonna support his guys. I mean, we’re like a big family. It’s always good to see him. And of course, he keeps us laughing, keeps us smiling. It’s always fun to have him around.”

Cousins had the best season of his career this past year, averaging a career-high 22.7 points and 11.7 rebounds in roughly 32 minutes per contest. As a player, Calipari thinks Cousins has improved in more than one area and joked that he’s gotten the chance to show his true potential now that he’s free from Kentucky’s constraints.

“Like all the players I coached, he says I held him back,” Calpari said teasingly. “I didn’t let him play out on the floor and do all the things he can do.”

Last summer, Cousins signed a $62.5 million extension to remain with the Kings for the next four years. Calipari says that the loyalty the Kings’ executives showed Cousins in their first summer on the job goes a long way toward maintaing their starting center’s faith in them.

“If he trusts you, he’ll give you his kidney,” Calipari said of Cousins. “That’s how he is.”

Perhaps Cousins learned a lot about loyalty while in Lexington. Despite just one season at Kentucky, the bond he continues to share with his former coach and every player that’s suited up for Calipari is not something that’s easily explained.

“You really can’t,” Cousins said. “That’s the crazy thing about it. You can’t really put it into words.”

Out of all the players Calipari has mentored during his three-decade-plus coaching career, Cousins is the one kid who left a lasting impression on his wife. There’s a reason for that and it has to do with how the Kings starting center carries himself, according to Calipari.

“Because he’s real,” Calipari said. “He tells the truth. He is who he is.”

Cousins and Team USA teammates continue to build chemistry

It was just Day 3, but Cousins saw progress at Wednesday’s Team USA practice. The Kings starting center says that he and teammates are getting more acclimated with one another as the week of training camp moves forward.

“It’s another day under the system so you understand that better,” Cousins said. “You’re understanding your teammates better now. The ball’s moving more. It’s moving better. Defensively, we’re playing better. It’s just a process and I believe every day, we’re getting better.”

As one of the few true big men in the camp, Cousins has a strong chance of making the World Cup roster. No decisions have been made yet on whom head coach Mike Krzyzewski and USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo plan on naming to this year’s team.

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About: Jonathan Santiago

Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.