Coach K: DeMarcus Cousins is Team USA's backup center

James Herbert, NBA writer
CBS Sports


Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski feels that DeMarcus Cousins has separated himself from fellow reserve bigs Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee, and the Sacramento Kings big man will back up Anthony Davis at the FIBA World Cup, via ESPN's Marc Stein.

Still recovering from the bone bruise in his right knee suffered earlier this month in Chicago, Cousins was the fourth player off the U.S. bench in Tuesday's exhibition victory over Slovenia. Yet the rotation in that game confirmed that he's firmly part of the "core group" of nine players so often referenced by Krzyzewski since this team started practicing together in late July. 

For all the skepticism about his ability to win over Team USA staffers who haven't forgotten his poor first impression in 2012 -- as well as the questions that linger about how he'll get along with FIBA referees -- Cousins is clearly ahead of fellow bigs Mason Plumlee and Andre Drummond. (Ditto for 10th man DeMar DeRozan.) 

Two years ago, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo publicly criticized Cousins, and the big man wasn't thrilled about it. Even in late July, a report indicated Plumlee was "likely" to make the team over Cousins. The Kings big man was clearly more talented than his competition, but it seemed Team USA wanted the backup center to just set screens, rebound, play pick-and-roll defense and protect the paint. Now it seems Krzyzewski is happy with what Cousins provides, and Colangelo is only saying positive things about him. 

Let's not forget, though, that USA Basketball didn't need to bring Cousins, Plumlee and Drummond to Spain. Colangelo said that he and Krzyzewski wanted "as many bigs as possible," so it follows that Cousins' spot isn't exactly set in stone. Surely if they had total confidence in him, they would have kept another wing player instead of all of the centers. In the event that Cousins isn't as productive as they hope in his role, they have other options.

The 2014 FIBA World Cup begins on Saturday.

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