FRISCO, Texas — Jaleel Cousins is the first to admit that he and big brother DeMarcus Cousins are light years apart in terms of where their respective games are currently at.
DeMarcus, 26, is now in his seventh NBA season, all of which he has spent with the Sacramento Kings, where he has been an All-Star in the past two campaigns.
Jaleel, 22, hasn’t been playing the game nearly as long. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get heated when they take the court for some one-on-one.
“I didn’t really start getting into myself until now, which he’s five years in. He has it down pat and I’m still learning,” Jaleel Cousins said. “There’s a big difference in our game and everything, but when we do have time to play one-on-one, it’s pretty much arguing the whole time.”
Cousins, who went undrafted after averaging 8.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game as a senior at South Florida, played for the Dallas Mavericks’ entry in the Orlando Summer League back in July and averaged 5.3 points and three rebounds over five games.
That team was coached by Bob MacKinnon Jr., who in June had been hired to coach the Mavs’ NBA Development League affiliate, the Texas Legends, in nearby Frisco.
Cousins admits MacKinnon didn’t make a great first impression, but once he got to know the basketball lifer, he quickly developed an immense respect for him.
“When I first met him, our first encounter, I thought he was mean and overaggressive. But at the end of Summer League, I just realized that’s just his coaching style,” Cousins said. “He wants to have you amped up, he wants to keep you energized the whole time. Right after the game, he was calm, joking around and playful. It’s all good. I see that. I just saw his coaching style basically. He just wants you to go out and play hard.”
And even though MacKinnon only coached Cousins for five games back in July, there was one positive quality he saw in him that he expects to see from every player on his roster.
“He’s a guy in Summer League that I felt only got better every day,” MacKinnon Jr. said. “That’s one of our big things with our program here, is we’re trying to get better every day. We like those kind of guys.”
Cousins feels that his time in Summer League helped prepare him for what to expect in the D-League — as well as in the NBA. And like many seeing the NBA game the first time, the increased pace stood out immediately, a big difference between how the sport was played at USF. But like every experience he’s endured on and off the court, he knows that will only make him a better player.
That’s exactly how he views the two years he spent at Navarro College, a junior college in Corsicana, Texas, about 60 miles south of Dallas.
Cousins admits he didn’t really care for Corsicana, partly because of the fact he was 10 hours from home in Mobile, Ala., but also due to the fact many students left campus on the weekend while he was forced to stay there, often alone.
But as he looks back, he knows his time in Navarro helped forge the strong work ethic which served him well at USF and also with the Mavs organization.
“I know that back then I was lazy, super lazy,” Cousins admitted. “It was me not wanting to work hard. On weekends, the campus was empty, so I was sitting in my room chilling. It kind of got miserable, but it also helped me in the long run too. I think that’s another reason too why I’m so laid-back, my college experiences were I kind of had to be by myself, especially those first two years. South Florida was a little different but those first two years crafted me into this, which is a good thing.”
That time alone helped him get to know himself and accept the fact that while many of his friends and teammates were outgoing, gregarious personalities who were always talking and cracking jokes, he was more of the introspective type, content to sit in the corner and take everything in so that he can remain focused on what he needs to do to keep improving.
Another big positive with playing at Navarro was it afforded him the opportunity to see DeMarcus play in person by making an hour drive to Dallas or traveling several hours south to Houston. Whenever his brother was playing close and Navarro wasn’t playing, Jaleel drove to see “Boogie.”
“Since he’s been in the league, I’ll probably say maybe 12 (times I’ve seen him play),” Cousins said. “I saw him play in Orlando when I was out there at South Florida, and then the other times were me in junior college when we had Christmas break and we’d get like two weeks, I’d go out there to his house. If they had a game, we went to the game as a family.”
Jaleel is the first to call himself subdued, which is the exact opposite of his older brother.
“Yeah, I’m more laid back. If you ever see us together, he’s talking more and I’m more in the background, quiet,” Cousins said. “I can get like that too, but most of the time I’m just chilling. I just stay relaxed most of the time.”
Another way Jaleel is different from his big brother is that unlike “Boogie,” he does not have a catchy nickname.
His former teammates at USF tried to nickname him “Chef Cousins” by shooting a video of Jaleel cooking while his teammates were playing videogames, but Cousins never really took to the moniker.
“I just like to eat, so I had to cook for myself,” Cousins said. “Me going off to college, I was never on my own, so I had to take care of myself. Most kids or people I’d run into in college, they didn’t know how to live without being up under their parents. I already knew from being around my mom and having the single parent, I just knew how to take care of myself when she wasn’t around.”
Cousins will likely make his D-League debut Nov. 12 when the Legends host the Maine Red Claws at Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco. He looks forward to playing for the Legends, which he said he expects to be a “great experience” during the team’s media day earlier this week.
And as far as if he has what it takes to join DeMarcus in the Association, Jaleel has no doubt he can do whatever is necessary to get a shot.
“Just play hard basically,” Cousins said. “Rebound, block shots and do everything I can to help my team win, stay energized and never take a play off, play on both ends of the floor.”
One thing he knows will help him realize that dream is improving the mental side of his game. Jaleel is the first to admit that since he thinks a lot, he is his own biggest critic and he does get down on himself when he makes mistakes, something which he acknowledges he needs to work on.
He and DeMarcus don’t talk or text each other every day, but Jaleel knows that if his brother needs him or vice versa, they will always be there for one another.
And for those wondering if he ever gets tired of being called Boogie’s brother, the answer to that question is, Well, yes and no.
“Yeah, I get it everywhere I go. Sometimes it’s annoying, but at the same time, that’s my brother, I’m not ashamed of him, it is what it is,” Cousins said. “He just recently told me he’s had people come up to him and call him me. I never thought he would get that. Some people say we look exactly alike, twins and everything, especially when we’re next to each other.”
So while Jaleel Cousins might not be nearly as developed in basketball terms as his older brother DeMarcus, the younger brother has already displayed the determination, tenacity and work ethic to one day join “Boogie” in the NBA.
Jaleel will get a great chance to do so in the D-League with the Texas Legends. Of course, only time will tell if and when he joins DeMarcus in the Association.