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Cousin hoping strong season paves way back to NBA

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Japan Times features periodic interviews with players in the bj-league. Marcus Cousin of the Kyoto Hannaryz is the subject of this week’s profile.

Position: Center

Age: 26

Ht: 211 cm

Wt: 116 kg

Hometown: Baltimore

College: Houston (final two seasons), Seton Hall

Noteworthy: Cousin is the third former NBA player to suit up for the Hannaryz. The others: guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (2009-11) and center Lance Allred (last season). Cousin played four games for the Utah Jazz in the 2010-11 season. That season, he averaged 14.9 points and 8.9 rebounds for the NBA Development League’s Austin Toros. …

This season, Cousin averaged a team-best 14.9 points in 51 games and led Kyoto in minutes played (1,437), free-throw attempts (227) and field-goal shooting percentage (58.0). He scored a season-high 32 points on March 9 against Niigata. In the opening round of the playoffs, he notched consecutive double-doubles (20 points and 15 rebounds and 16 and 16) against the Shiga Lakestars. .. Cousin has previously played in Turkey, Israel, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. His pro career began in 2009. … A bone spur in his foot sidelined him last season.

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It’s now a few days since the Hannaryz knocked off the defending champion Ryukyu Golden Kings. What did that mean to you?

This is my first year in Japan, so it feels really good and hopefully we can come out and get a championship this week.

The Hannaryz had a slow start this season. Now, do you think the team is playing some of its best ball of the season?

Yeah, I think so. We are playing some of our best basketball as a team in the first round and I thought that it carried over to Okinawa and hopefully it will continue in Tokyo.

How do you feel you’ve played this season?

I think I’ve played well this season. A lot of times, I get double-teamed every game, so that’s one of the things I’ve tried to get around. So I just try to be a factor and pass to my teammates. Other than that, I just tried to go hard every night and do whatever that might be — score, rebound, or just play defense.

Have you grown comfortable with your role on the Hannaryz?

I think the coach (Honoo Hamaguchi) and me got on the right page, but the first few months were kind of up and down. … But as the season went on, I’ve gotten more comfortable in my playing and it’s been working out and I’m playing some of my best basketball. So it’s turning out good.

What were the keys to the team’s big turnaround after a well-publicized 0-8 start?

I knew that we were a good team, but when we were 0-8 we lost a lot of games by like three points. We knew we could come out and get over that hump and we had that big winning streak (eight games and 12 of 14 overall after the 0-8 start) after that and we started playing as a team.

After two days off the court, how was Wednesday’s practice in preparation for Saturday’s Western Conference final against the Rizing Fukuoka at Ariake Colosseum?

Good. Everybody is ready for the game, getting up shots and working on defense.

Can you think of one or two aspects of your game that Hamaguchi has helped you improve?

He said I always go to the middle when I have the ball, so he wants me to go left or right, too. I have a drop-step move, so I can rely on that as well. He told me to take my time and be patient. I think those are the two biggest things.

Any other examples?

As the season went on, I got double-teamed a lot in the (low) post, so he put me in the high post where I can shoot as well, so it was harder to double team me.

Off the court, how do you generally pass the time in Japan?

When I’m usually by myself, I stay home, play video games and watch movies.

(Note: He said having his parents and sisters fly out to Japan for a few days to watch the team and visit a few places was “a good experience for them.”)

Have you been really impressed by any of the American big men you’ve gone up against this season?

To be honest, nobody impressed me like that to where I really had a tough time guarding them or scored 30 points on me. That never happened. There are some solid players that are good, but somebody that’s impressed me like, wow? I don’t think so.

The best ones, solid players, are a guy from Shiga, (Dionisio) Gomez, and Takamatsu’s Paul Williams.

Have you previously played for a championship team at the high school, college or pro level?

When I was in Israel (in 2009-10 with Altshuler Shaham Gilboa Galil), we won the championship out there and it was kind of like the same thing. We beat the No.1 team from the last year. We did it in the championship game so it was a good feeling. The whole country was shocked that we won.

In your own words, how would you describe yourself as a player?

As a power player, but I can have some finesse as well, go outside and shoot or drive sometimes, too. I think I can do a lot of things on the court. I am not one-dimensional. I like to work on all parts of my game and I think it’s been playing out this season.

I’ve been doing the same thing my whole career. I always try to work on different things.

Thinking back to your college days, who are the most prominent players you remember competing against?

Rudy Gay, he plays for the Raptors now, and Jordan Hill for the Lakers. Those are the two best players I played against in college.

Are you focused on only playing overseas now? Or is it your No.1 goal to return to the NBA?

I definitely want to get back to the NBA because I was there before I got hurt, so I definitely want to try again. Hopefully, I have a shot next year or this summer.

As far as overseas, I feel as though that will always be an option, but I want to try to get back to the NBA next year.

Are you working with your agent, Eric Fleisher, to explore NBA Summer League options?

Yes, he’s doing that now and checking what teams might be interested in a tryout.

How important is it to have game film from this season to show to prospective NBA teams?

I think that’s one of the main things. I knew going into this year a lot of teams were kind of scared to sign me because I was coming off a year that I was hurt … so they didn’t know.

I’ve been healthy all season, so that’s very good to have (on film).

What is your overall impression of the bj-league? And how’s the competition?

It’s good; of course, it’s a lot different than the NBA.

As far as the competition with the centers, I go up against an American every night, different players all the time, so that’s been good.

Speaking of big men, you and Gyno Pomare form a strong one-two punch in the post for Kyoto. Isn’t that right?

I think so. When I get double-teamed, he scores a lot, and when most of the attention’s on me, he gets a lot of open shots and rebounds … and also we do a lot of high-low (offensive sets) that the coach puts in, so that’s good as well.

Guard Masaharu Kataoka has been one of the top Japanese newcomers in the league this season. What has he done to make his mark for Kyoto?

I like how he drives a lot and passes well and he does a lot. He shoots the ball, plays defense, all those things. He’s been a great addition to our team.