UK alum Tom Leach has been the play-by-play "Voice of the Wildcats" for the football Cats for 12 years and nine years for men's basketball. He is a four-time winner of the Kentucky Sportscaster of the Year award. Tom offers an entertaining and insightful perspective into UK athletics. Column entries will be posted twice per week through April. Read Tom's full biography
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If I were an NBA scout and interested in DeMarcus Cousins for my team, I think Tuesday night's Kentucky-Mississippi State game in Starkville would a must-see event.
Cousins, aka "Big Cuz" aka "Boogie," has emerged as one of college basketball's hot topics in recent weeks as he has dominated Southeastern Confernece opponents in the paint. Now, he comes off a rare subpar performance against Tennessee, scoring five points against the Vols' zone, and he's going up against one of the all-time great shot blockers in the college game in Jarvis Varnado.
Cousins has overpowered most of his foes this season, but Varnado's length and instincts will present a unique challenge and it will be interesting to see how the Cats' big man responds.
Already, UK coach John Calipari says Cousins has come farther faster than any player he's ever coached.
"It's everything," Calipari said. "Basketball-wise, it's his feel. He's slowing down.
"He's holding his position better. He's catching it where they can't guard him, which is two, three feet from the basket. He's using his weight, his size to his advantage. Physically, he's in the best shape. Emotionally, he's got a smile on his face, enjoying life, he's not trying to fight the world.".
Cousins' play has also caught the eye of another former star big man at Kentucky in Dan Issel, the program's all-time leading scorer.
"He has gotten more patient," Issel told tomleachky.com. "When you're a young player, you get in a hurry. You get the ball in the low post and you want to make a move and shoot it. What he's done in the last few weeks is that he's patient, he reads the defense and then he takes what the defense gives him. And when he decides to go after an offensive rebound, there isn't anybody that can stop that."
Issel is also a former NBA coach and front office executive and he knows Cousins' pro stock is rising.
"If Cousins continues to play at the level he is now -- or improves -- he's going to be a top five or six pick, I would think," Issel said.
Coming out of high school in Birmingham, Ala., Cousins faced doubts about his ability to succeed at the next level because of concerns about his attitude and on-court behavior. But Calipari looked deeper and saw a young man with a different side to his personality.
"I saw how he was with his mother," Calipari said. "When a young man is as respectful and as loving as he is to his mother, that means he has that in him. He would never do any of the stuff he did anywhere else around his mother or to his mother. There are a lot of kids that has a history of things happening -- the teasing, the ridicule. When I got around him, he wanted to be coached. And his mother wanted him around someone who wasn't afraid of him and we were fortunate that he wanted to come here."
And one would think that the success Cousins is having would provide a big boost to Calipari's recruiting efforts and his ability to sell the idea that big men could flourish in the Dribble Drive Motion offense.
"I think this offense, it doesn't matter what position you are," Calipari said. "If you can play, if you can ball, then you'll be fine. If you can't, it's not a good place to come because I can't hide you. If you don't have those skills with the basketball, it'll show. Whether you're a big guy or you're a guard, you're going to be on that stage on which you want to perform (in this system)."
Cousins can definitely "ball" with the best of them and he also does a good job of keeping his teammates loose with his personality off the court.
"He likes to have fun," Calipari said. "He's like a little kid off the court. What we've try to do is get him to do is grow up on the court. On this court, it's all about business and getting better."