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Family and friends describe Cousins as a homebody who doesn't drink—or even like to party. He took up basketball in seventh grade after an extended growth spurt forced him to give up his dream of playing in the NFL. "He got so leggy, I was afraid a hit would mess up his knee," says his mother, Monique Cousins. "He had to find something else to do."
DeMarcus had the size (he was 6'6" at 14) to excel at basketball, but he didn't truly learn the game until his family moved to Mobile, where he played for two years at LeFlore High for coach Otis Hughley. DeMarcus could be seen arguing on the sideline with the coach—a trend that continued at Kentucky—but Hughley insists that their discussions were about tactics. The coach says their creative differences persuaded him to adapt his offense to feature Cousins in the post. "He helped me become a better listener," says Hughley, who returned the favor by giving his prodigy a comprehensive education in such fine points as boxing out and passing out of the double team. "He started to understand he needed to read the whole book from cover to cover, instead of jumping to sections that he just needed for the moment," says Hughley. "Early in his life he had no coping tools to manage his frustrations."
Cousins says he took medication for attention deficit disorder during elementary school but stopped after the sixth grade because it made him feel sluggish. While he was highly popular with the media, fans and teammates at Kentucky, Cousins admits he is slow to trust. "I don't let people know the real me," he says. "But people who really know me, they'll tell you, 'That kid is so smart.' I may not act like it, but when you think I'm not watching, that's when I'm actually on."
Is he too much of a hothead? The Kings answer by saying that they would not have picked Cousins so high if they had not valued his passion. "I don't think you can give somebody a motor who doesn't have one," says Petrie. "But if a guy's got a motor, you've got a chance to get it running on all cylinders."
The ultimate success of DeMarcus Cousins will depend on three initiatives. The Kings must acquire a couple of reliable veterans to tutor him in the importance of hard work at the NBA level, so that he can develop his skills (and reduce his 16.4% body fat). Second, he must continue to lean on Team Cousins, a support group that includes his mother, his agent John Greig and his 24-year-old sister, Ryan, who will live in Sacramento with Cousins throughout the coming season.
But Cousins will be headed nowhere until he resolves initiative number 3: acquire a driver's license. "We really need to get on that," he says, laughing. "I was talking to a team [before the draft], and they said, 'You don't have a driver's license?' They were both joking and serious—like, You need to work on that because you got to get to practice!" For the draft's biggest prospect, it's the little things he does from now on that will make all the difference.
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