"It felt like an AAU team. Everything [the critics] were saying before, I believe it's true. We were the worst. We weren't building for the future, we were just living in the moment. That's why we were that bad. ... Honestly, I feel like I wasted time. I hate the fact that it took everything we went through to get to this. I guess you could say it makes that much better." -- DeMarcus Cousins
Those are the mature and reflective words of the face of the Sacramento Kings. Of course, if you ask Cousins, he'll tell you that he's been the face of the franchise and now being paid like it. He's a 23-year-old accepting his past transgressions in order to be a leader of a Kings team finally set up with a true foundation. A new coach, a new owner and a new blend of young players and veterans are installed in Sacramento, and Boogie is their leader.
But it's really all about that beard of his.
I remember when I was 23 years old. I thought I knew how to wear a beard, but I really didn't. Mine was of the pencil-thin line variety. In fact, let me say it now: it wasn't a beard at all. It looked like someone took a black colored pencil and drew a line from ear to ear. I thought that thing was fly at the time, but now I know that I looked like a wayward soul.
However, Boogie's beard is something a grown man would wear. It's filled in, it's thick and it really looks like he doesn't care about too much else other than hooping right about now. This is a good thing. When you care way too much to have a meticulously thin beard like I had, you can't really flourish and prosper like you should because you're worried about your 5 o'clock shadow messing up your lineup.
Boogie is ready to ball:
If you think about it, all the great big men have eventually grown out the beard. It represents a stoicism and savagery that's needed to truly dominate as a big man. Russell, Kareem, Wilt, Walton, Shaq, Duncan ... they all had beards. Slightly unkempt at times, it was a respectful balance of manhood and beastliness. Is Boogie channeling these big fellas with hard work and dedication?
Well, he was running wind sprints with his coach this summer:
"When the players come back in September, they're going to get a sense that things are different when they're around our staff. They can see how hard we work, how committed we are. I'm running sprints last week with DeMarcus Cousins and Travis Outlaw, and they said, 'Coach, we've never had a guy run sprints with us.'" ... [Q:] You had DeMarcus running sprints? Where was this? [A:] "Right across the street, on the track at Inderkum High School. This summer, we had Isaiah Thomas, Jason Thompson, Jimmer Fredette, Marcus Thornton working out during the summer league, and we're all sweating, working."
That story reminds me of another talented young big man who had to find his own way in the NBA and learn how to lead a franchise. Shawn Kemp's way to build that maturity? Running sprints. From SI's Tim Keown back in '96:
So he spent last off-season running up these steps, punishing his body. Two hundred forty stairs. Every step, every pulse of pain, was a reminder that he was redefining himself as a player. He would show everybody, no matter what it took, that he was more than a series of highlights, more than fancy dunks. He split his summer between Seattle and his 30-acre farm in tiny Bristol, Ind., just outside Elkhart, and he ran there, too. He ran during the worst heat wave in decades. Public officials warned people to stay inside, to keep cool. Kemp ran.
He ran on the Fourth of July, the air thick as glue. "I'll never forget that day," he says. "My mom looked at me and said, 'I know you're not going to run today.' I said, 'I'm on this program, and I'm not about to stop.' But when I was out there running, I was telling myself, 'Whoo, this better be worth it. It's a holiday; everybody else is eating.' But that's why I was out there: Nobody else was doing it."
At the start of the 1996 season, coach George Karl noticed the difference. "He was ready to go to work," Karl said in the above piece. "When he came to work, our team was ready to go."
Boogie's chance to be elite starts this season, with one year ahead of him with virtually a blank slate. It's interesting, because I can't find anyone that doesn't root for Boogie. Everyone wants to see the man succeed, and everyone realizes all he has to do is "put it all together."
Maybe it'll be because of the sprints. Maybe it'll be because of that beard. Maybe it'll be because of those late-night conversations he has with Shaq. Maybe he's just fed up with losing and folks asking him silly questions. Game 1 saw Boogie put up 30 and 14 in a 90-88 win over the Denver Nuggets, but all we want to see in games two through 82 is a carpenter refining his skills game by game. A hook shot here, a 15-rebound game there, a smile instead of a scowl, sticking up for a teammate when things get hectic.
Who knows, maybe we'll start calling him Mr. Cousins instead of Boogie, it could be the start of something magical.
A Happy Hour drink recommendation: The Corpse Reviver No. 2. A fitting name for a franchise looking for a second revival since the days of Webber, Divac and Bibby were running things in the previously-named Arco Arena. The original Corpse Reviver uses cognac (which I prefer) but the second iteration is the more popular hangover curing option. No. 2 consists of equal parts gin, lemon juice, triple sec (commonly Cointreau), Kina Lillet, and a dash of absinthe. (YES THE SPOOKY HALLUCINATING STUFF) This stuff will open your nose up and you will enjoy it. Plus, it's called The Corpse Reviver No. 2, how cool of a name is that? TGIF.