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Shaquille O’Neal apparently plans to mentor DeMarcus Cousins

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Shaquille O'Neal shoots over DeMarcus Cousins in 2011 (Rocky Widner/ Getty).

Sacramento Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins is one of the most talented players in the NBA, a center capable of scoring, passing, rebounding, and protecting the rim at a star level in any one game. Unfortunately, Cousins has developed a reputation as one of the most immature players in the NBA, as well, earning suspensions and admonishment from seemingly every corner of the basketball world. Some of those punishments have been related to Cousins's reputation more than the actions themselves, but there's no question that he's not the best behaved kid around. If he's ever going to fulfill his massive potential, he'll need to grow up.

To do so, Cousins will also need a support system. A surprising figure has emerged to join that group. From CBS Sacramento (via SLAM):

Vivek Ranadive and Mark Mastrov sat down for dinner with the TNT analyst and former Los Angeles Lakers star at the Rosewood Sand Hill in Melo Park.

Three months after O’Neal said he thought the Kings were sold and gone at the NBA All-Star Game in Houston, the all-star center said he’s going to help tutor DeMarcus Cousins.

O’Neal said, “I’m going to make DeMarcus Cousins the best big man in the game.”

O’Neal also praised the planned new Kings arena, which won a Sacramento City Council vote to approve $6.5 million in funding for the project.

As a member of the Lakers in the early '00s, O'Neal routinely insulted the rival Kings — most notably calling them the "Queens" — so his praise for the organization is surprising if only for that one reason. However, the odder fact regarding Shaq's mentorship of Cousins might be that he's never seemed to be the most mature person or athlete. While Shaq certainly accomplished a great deal, he was perceived to not work as hard as he could have, to court attention maybe a little too much to the detriment of his team.

Or maybe that's the idea. While everyone wants Cousins to mature, it's possible that a certain baseline of immaturity is just part of his personality. As an extremely talented player who also found space for irreverence, Shaq could be the right person to teach Cousins how to maintain that balance. He can become an elite player without sacrificing all of the intensity and passion — good qualities, in moderation — that sometimes leads to bad decisions.

We often put a player's maturity in binary terms, as if becoming more professional required flipping a switch and committing to adulthood. It's more like a continuum, though, and a player (or any person, for that matter) can't be expected to change personality entirely just because his profession wants him to. Shaq's history suggests he might be able to show Cousins how to make it work without letting go of himself.

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