SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Whenever DeMarcus Cousins(notes) arrives to a Sacramento Kings game or practice he sees his giant likeness staring right back at him. Cousins has yet to play a single regular season game for the Kings, but already a 35-foot-tall mural of the rookie center – that includes two pictures of him screaming with the words, ''KINGS'' and ''DEMARCUS'' – adorns one side of Arco Arena. Such larger-than-life production brings a lot of pressure to a kid who recently turned 20, but Cousins believes he can live up to the local hype.
''It's kind of crazy driving past it every day, pulling into practice and seeing myself on a building,'' Cousins said. ''I wouldn't say it brings added pressure. I'd say it brings more expectations'.''
The Kings' enthusiasm is understandable because Cousins arguably has the biggest upside of any prospect from the 2010 draft. The 6-foot-11, 270-pound center averaged 15.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.76 blocks in just 23.5 minutes per game as a true freshman at the University of Kentucky.
While few people questioned Cousins' talent, several NBA scouts said questions about his character and attitude caused him to drop in the draft. He was labeled lazy and difficult to coach in high school and at Kentucky. As a high school sophomore, Cousins also was involved in an altercation with a faculty member on a school bus. Teams grilled Cousins about such concerns before the draft. He believes his emotional style of play and confident attitude sometimes give the wrong vibe.
''The only time that people see me is when I'm on the court,'' Cousins said. ''They basically believe they know me because of the way I play basketball. They hear that one story from high school and see how I play and say, 'Oh, he's crazy.' ''
To help his adjustment to the NBA, the Kings and Cousins' family have formed a supportive circle around him. Sacramento hired Otis Hughley, a 'high school coach and ''father figure'' to Cousins, to aid in the rookie's transition. Cousins' mother, Monique, plans on visiting Sacramento every three weeks when she is not in Mobile, Ala., in the new house her son bought her. Former UK basketball student manager Andrew Rogers also is living with Cousins in his Sacramento apartment.
''I like what I see,'' Monique Cousins said. ''If you have a support system there, you can handle anything.''
Said Hughley: ''This kid deserves a fair stage. I don't know that it will ever be that way for him.''
After living in Mobile and Birmingham in Alabama and then in Lexington, Ky., Cousins thinks Sacramento will fit him well. Big cities, he said, ''are too much for me.''
The Kings believed they made a steal when they selected Cousins with the fifth overall pick. After watching him average 15.5 points and 9.5 rebounds through two preseason games, the team's optimism has grown. He also hasn't forgotten that the Washington Wizards, Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves passed on him – he plans to make them all pay.
''I believe everything happens for a reason,'' Cousins said. ''But I can't wait to play them because I'm going at their necks, especially the big that got picked before me.''
That ''big'' is Georgia Tech power forward Derrick Favors(notes), who was selected by the Nets third overall. Favors was the only post player selected among the top four picks. Considering the Nets' most heralded player is center Brook Lopez(notes), drafting another true center like Cousins didn't make sense for the team's needs.
After Cousins scored 16 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in his preseason debut against Phoenix, he couldn't help but chuckle to himself when he learned Favors had four points and one rebound in 13 minutes against Philadelphia earlier that night.
''I'm trying to see what's so special,'' Cousins said of Favors. ''…I guess that's what they really needed on their team. I really don't know. '
''I feel I was the best big to come out of college. For another big to get picked before me, I have a problem with that.''
At his size, Cousins certainly has the physical attributes to make an immediate impact for the Kings. With veteran center Samuel Dalembert(notes) nursing a hip injury and third-year forward Jason Thompson(notes) still developing, Cousins is quickly getting an opportunity to prove that he deserves to be the Kings starting center when the season opens.
Between the Kings' recent struggles and the franchise's concerns about building a new arena, positive news has been in short supply in Sacramento. That's why the Kings have been quick to promote point guard Tyreke Evans(notes), last season's Rookie of the Year, and Cousins as the cornerstones of the team's future. Mitch German, the Kings' vice president of business communications and marketing, said Joe and Gavin Maloof, the franchise's owners, made the decision to hang the large banner of Cousins outside the arena. And that's the small version. Another mural of Cousins and Evans – spanning more than 10 stories tall and 65 feet wide – hangs on a downtown office building.
''They think big,'' German said of the Maloofs.
Not everyone thinks that's in the best interest of Cousins.
''That's too much pressure for the young children,'' Hughley said. ''Tyreke has only been in the league one year. Than DeMarcus? That's a lot of pressure for a 20-year-old kid. He's not getting credit for taking that in stride.''
Cousins doesn't seem to mind. He's already set one lofty goal for himself: He wants to follow Evans as the Kings' second straight Rookie of the Year. To do so, he'd have to beat out the past two No. 1 draft picks: his Kentucky teammate, John Wall(notes); and Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin(notes).
And if Cousins ever needs a reminder of how much the Kings are counting on him, all he has to do is look at the side of Arco Arena on his way to work.
''I know the expectations are high and I want to reach them,'' Cousins said. ''That's going to push me to go harder.''