DeMarcus Cousins works on grasping defensive concepts of international game

DeMarcus Cousins chats with Michael Malone after Team USA practice. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

LAS VEGAS – Old habits are hard to break. When it comes to playing defense in the international game, DeMarcus Cousins is trying his best to learn new habits as he vies for a spot on the United States’ FIBA World Cup roster.

“It’s different,” Cousins said of adapting to FIBA’s defensive rules. “It’s so many small things that are different when it comes to the international game.”

Defense may not be one of Cousins’ strengths but on international soil, the differences in rules may benefit his play. Players can swat the ball out of the cylinder with no repercussions of goaltending.

Defensive three second violations don’t apply in the international game either. This means someone like the Kings starting center can stand in the painted area for as long as he wants while protecting the rim.

“I mean, you can stand on the key the whole time,” Cousins said. “That’s something I haven’t done since high school. It’s different, but you kind of gotta build a habit, but in a quick way.”

While those two specific rule changes lighten the defensive load for big men, they’re also equally challenging to adjust to. Cousins noted that he and the rest of his teammates are so used to playing the game by the NBA rulebook that transitioning over to international play is a bit of a culture shock.

“Like I said – you’re so used to playing one way, that when you’re out there playing, it kinda becomes a habit,” Cousins said. “Now it’s to the point where you gotta make it into another habit, but at a quick rate.”

When it comes to transitioning to FIBA’s defensive style of play, assistant coach Tom Thibodeau believes that Cousins has experience on his side. Cousins has two previous training camps under his belt as a member of the USA Basketball program so he knows what to expect as far as international play is concerned.

“Well, he’s been here for a while now,” the Chicago Bulls head coach said when asked about Cousins’ grasp of defensive concepts following practice on Tuesday. “So I think he’s gotten more comfortable. I think that he’s gotten into pretty good shape and that’s a very positive sign.

“Each day, he’s been good,” Thibodeau added. “You know you can see that he’s improved a lot from last year so we’ll see how it unfolds.”

Making the quick transition to FIBA’s defensive style of play is one of Team USA’s major challenges ahead of the World Cup. It’s not something that Cousins or anyone else will come to grips with overnight.

“I think our team defense is something that we have to work on constantly,” Thibodeau said following practice on Tuesday. “It has to be a commitment that’s made by the entire team. But I think international defense is very good.”

Michael Malone visits Vegas for Cousins

Cousins had support on his side during day two of USA Basketball mini camp in Las Vegas. Kings head coach Michael Malone made the trip down from Sacramento to offer Cousins some words of encouragement and advice.

The support didn’t go unnoticed by Cousins, who appreciated that Malone took time out of his offseason schedule to watch Team USA practice for the next few days.

“He could be doing 1,000 other things (but) he’s here to support me,” Cousins said. “I mean, he lets you know that he cares and he has my back so it’s a good feeling.”

Malone called Cousins’ latest USA Basketball invite “a great opportunity” for the Kings starting center’s career. With Anthony Davis being the only big man guaranteed a spot on this year’s World Cup roster, Team USA could use some more size and Cousins could fill a need.

“I’m not going to put the pressure on him to say that he has to make it,” Malone said. “Coach Krzyzewski and Mr. Colangelo will have to make that decision when they do, but I’m biased. I think he’s the best big man. I think he’d be a great asset for this team moving forward as they get ready for the world championship.”

Malone made sure to remind Cousins to focus on doing the little things as well. Considering that Cousins may not be as heavily featured in USA Basketball’s offensive sets if he makes the roster, Malone said he encouraged Cousins to contribute in other ways.

“My word to him is if you don’t get it, rebound, run the floor, set great screens,” the Kings head coach said. “And when you do get it, like he did today, he made great passes to his teammates. He’s such a willing passer. He’s such an unselfish player and I think that’s why guys like playing with him.”

Malone flew into Las Vegas Tuesday morning and is planning on staying in town through Friday to support his starting center.

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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.