In a league full of all-worldly players, the talent pool at the center spot is surprisingly shallow. Orlando's Dwight Howard was all alone in the elite category even before the recent retirement of the always-hobbled Yao Ming and Shaquille O'Neal, with the likes of Tim Duncan, Tyson Chandler, Al Jefferson, Marc Gasol and Nene making up the strong middle class and the lower class hardly worth mentioning. But while there are a few up-and-coming centers who will be worth watching as they grow (see Roy Hibbert and JaVale McGee), Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins has the skill set and size to stand above the rest.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether he has the right psyche.
Whether at LeFlore High School in Birmingham, Ala., the University of Kentucky or the NBA, Cousins' work ethic and attitude have constantly been in question. I was reminded of that fact when a Western Conference general manager told me in late June that Cousins was among the players he anticipated gaining the most weight during the lockout, a la Shawn Kemp during the 1998-99 work stoppage.
Yet Cousins, who isn't the only NBA player fighting this lockout battle of the bulge that only gets tougher over time, was proud to report that his conditioning is right where he wants it to be. More importantly for Kings fans, his trainer (and countless videos of Cousins looking good in summer exhibition games) corroborates his story.
In an interview with SI.com, trainer Keith Williams -- who is based in Washington D.C. and trains Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, Orlando's Gilbert Arenas, Minnesota's Michael Beasley, and Denver's Ty Lawson, among others -- discussed Cousins' offseason regimen and the challenges that come with convincing the 21-year-old that he has hardly reached his physical potential. Williams said he has spent "65 to 70 percent" of Cousins' offseason with him in various locations.
Amick: So give me your typical training day with DeMarcus.
Williams: A typical day is treadmill and elliptical for 40 minutes, then hit the weights -- upper and lower -- for 40 or 45 minutes. Then we do basketball stuff in the post for an hour, take lunch, then take it easy. Then we go to boxing, which is something we did going into the 2010 draft in which he was taken fifth overall. He kind of enjoys it. We normally do boxing for about 30 minutes, a really tough workout. It works out a lot of muscles that guys don't normally work out playing basketball.
He'll throw punches on the mitts for three minutes, hit the heavy bag for three minutes. Jump on the treadmill, run for three minutes. It's on and off and the exercise will change, from abdominal work to treadmill, then heavy balls against the wall and then treadmill, or weight lifting for three minutes, then treadmill. That's probably the hardest workout with the boxing.
At the end of the day, we shoot. A big part for him is that face-up shot or that pick-and-roll...We normally shoot for an hour, then play full court at Maryland. A lot of pros would be up there, or Georgetown.
Amick: Any sort of outside-the-box training going on?
Williams: Some swimming, and he went with his agent John [Greig] when he was in Seattle to yoga. He didn't like it. He didn't really enjoy it but he understands what he can get out of it. He tried it more than once but wasn't overly in love with it. Definitely boxing is something he loves to do, and playing in the summer Goodman league in D.C.
Amick: What sort of vision do you have for his body down the road?
Williams: His thing is he doesn't want to look or give the perception that he's trying to be like somebody else. Like if you tell him he ought to get cut like Dwight Howard, he automatically will say, 'Well I don't want to look like Dwight.' Part of that is him being young. I'm telling him, 'It's not that I want you to look like Dwight, I'm just saying that if we just stay on the path that we're on, then ultimately that's how you're going to look.
He has got to realize that weightlifting isn't about him getting bulky - when you're working two muscles at the same time, it burns more fat. When you sleep, you're burning fat. That's the reason for lifting weights.
He's bigger than Dwight. That's the craziest part about this whole thing (Howard is listed at 6-foot-11, 265 pounds while Cousins is currently 6-11 and fluctuating between 285 and 290 pounds). He's bigger than Dwight, man. But I think he'll be with the same cut but a trimmed-down version of himself. In a perfect world, if he's probably 270 (which was his listed weight last season), he's totally unstoppable.
I think he would dunk more [if he was 270], but for him he feels like when he plays really hard they always call all the fouls on him. I think he has found this middle ground where he is really quick and strong. He knows how to do it, to play that power game with quickness and strength. That's what he has to get to down the road to be the best player he can be. He has to mesh both of those.
Amick: Is he a tough sell on some of this stuff, then?
Williams: Obviously a lot of this stuff he has never done. He's been so much better than everyone else that he was never forced to do it. And I believe still, to be where we think he can be, he's got to do some of these little things. He's come a long way. He's coming along. He's not a bad kid. He's been around. He's just somewhat odd in his thinking, but ultimately he's an honest kid, and that's something that not a lot of kids are - especially in the NBA.
Amick: So you're seeing progress in his approach, though?
Williams: He has taken a more business attitude toward working out. Last year it was all new. He's more business-like. He's trying really hard to stay out of the way publicly, to stay out of those bumps and away from the negativity. I think he's maturing. I think anybody who is really watching him knows that physically in his game I don't think he has an issue with. It's just a matter of doing it. I think what he has to do is stay away from the things that might be misconstrued as negative. That's why he didn't really want to be in the media. He really just wanted to stay quiet and do his business, but he's definitely maturing a lot.
The thing that hurts DeMarcus is that he feels like, on the one hand a big man shouldn't have to work as hard and do all the running. But on the other hand, he wants the ball and he wants to do all those things. The biggest thing is him getting it that if you want to be the dynamic big man that you are, then you've got to work like it, you know what I mean? You can't want to be one way but want to work like the stiff big man.
Amick: Kevin Durant is really known as a one of the game's great workers. How big of a gap is there between him and Cousins when it comes to having that willingness to do the work?
Williams: There's not a big gap, but I've still got to push him. It's like getting a new behavior about working out, getting a new behavior about how you view working out. Kevin is off the charts. There are very few people, other than probably Kobe Bryant, who you would put in that class. But Cousins is growing, and being around Kevin now for a second season, he's growing as it relates to that.
Amick: Overall, is he doing the work you think he should be doing?
Williams: He has done a good job. For being a young player, and to maintain for so long since we got started really early.
He's ready to hit the ground running. He wants to show people that he has matured and that he's ready to take that next step. And I think if he can just stay on the floor, he should be able to do really well this year -- if he can just stay out of foul trouble.