By Frank Hughes
May 21, 2010

CHICAGO -- After John Wall, the projected No. 1 pick, completed his media availability session at the league's pre-draft camp on Friday, the former Kentucky guard sat in front of a television and watched the rest of ESPN's broadcast of the skills test and player evaluations, commenting on his own technique when the highlights aired. He was just another guy, and invited any reporter nearby to sit next to him and ask any question or just enjoy some casual conversation.

The next group to enter the conference room included Wall's teammate DeMarcus Cousins, perhaps the player most criticized for his immaturity and insurrection. After his session with the media, a reporter approached Cousins and asked him to sit down for a previously arranged interview that was meant to address the many shortcomings that Cousins claims are misperceptions or mischaracterizations of his true self.

"I'm going up to my room," Cousins told the reporter, "why don't you call my agent and make sure it is OK. But I have to go up to my room."

The 6-foot-10, 290-pound center went down to the hotel lobby and joked around with friends for 15 minutes before slipping out the front door. "Sorry," his agent, John Greig later texted, "he was on his way to do something for Nike."

But as Greig tries to put his client in the best-possible light off the court, GMs have noticed Cousins' troubling attitude on the court. One general manager said Cousins looked like he didn't even want to be on the court when he went through drills this week. Another said Cousins did better in his private interview than he anticipated, but not nearly enough to make the GM think Cousins' reputation was unwarranted.

Cousins claims he has been working endlessly to get into shape ever since Kentucky lost to West Virginia in NCAA Tournament. So far he's down to 290, but according to him, he weighed 290 during the season. The league's anthropometric measurements indicated Cousins has 16.4 percent body fat, the highest of any player in the draft other than Texas' Dexter Pittman, who had 20.8 percent. Of the 52 players at the camp, only seven had a body fat percentage in the double-digits.

But despite Cousins' attitude and reputation, he's still a projected top-five pick. And his talents present an interesting quandary: If a team passes on him and he ends up being a great player, like Amar'e Stoudemire, the GM stands to lose his job for failing to identify his strength of character. After all, one talent evaluator said Cousins is the most productive minute-per-minute player in the draft after averaging 15.1 points and 9.9 rebounds in 23.5 minutes a game for Kentucky. But if the GM picks him and he turns into a bust, like former Clippers No. 1 pick Michael Olowokandi, the GM stands to lose his job for failing to foresee the obvious red flags.

Both Cousins and Greig take offense to the notion that he has an attitude problem. The reputation is like a snowball, growing bigger with no provocation. When Cousins was asked Wednesday how he got such a reputation, he pointed at the questioner: "The media," he said, deflecting any responsibility.

"DeMarcus has some maturing to do, just like a lot of 19 year olds," Greig said. "But that in and of itself does not make him unique. Red flag? That is crazy. Just crazy. Let's stop talking in rhetoric and say exactly what you are concerned about with an example from his history. I'm willing to have all the books audited. And they better get down to Mobile and do their homework, They better not make a mistake, that's for sure. Because if they miss on this kid, somebody is going to lose their job."

Grieg says to ask Cousins' teammates about the kid; they'll tell you the truth. But when teammate Daniel Orton was asked about Cousins, he hesitated and then laughed. "Unpredictable," Orton said. "People don't realize it, but he's a loving kid -- sometimes. I've seen it get out of hand, but he can control it. It's kind of like watching a kid throw a temper tantrum."

This is the dance of the persecuted and misunderstood, an endless cycle of frustration that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. He has a poor reputation; he is asked about the poor reputation; he gets tired of answering the same questions about his reputation; he lashes out, providing yet another example of his poor reputation.

At this point, it seems Cousins would be better off embracing his reputation as a surly instigator rather than trying to convince everyone that he is misguided. And he came close to wrapping his arms around that idea Thursday, when he asked: "Which one would you take: a nasty big man or a friendly one?"

Wes Unseld got by just fine being nasty. So did Maurice Lucas. CharlesOakley. AnthonyMason. XavierMcDaniel. BillLaimbeer. RickMahorn. AlonzoMourning. In most cases, those players became beloved for their roles. They didn't care what people thought about their reputations.

Maybe Cousins just needs different packaging. Because the gift box with the bow that he is currently trying to wrap himself in is not fitting all that well.

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