Finally healthy, Looney relishing chance to rediscover potential

Finally healthy, Looney relishing chance to rediscover potential

Editor's Note: The above video is from Oct. 15, 2016.

PHOENIX – Kevon Looney was the last Warrior off the practice court early Saturday evening, trudging off only after sprinting himself to the brink of exhaustion.

He’s never been so giddy about working so hard.

That’s because, finally, he can. The second-year forward, still only 20, is excited to push himself toward his physical limits without his body screaming in protest.

Asked how long it has been since he felt this healthy on the court, Looney paused for a few seconds.

“I would probably say my senior year of high school,” he told CSNBayArea.com.

It shows. Coming off the bench in the second half Friday night in New Orleans, Looney made a positive impact at both ends. Playing only seven hyperactive minutes, he totaled 4 points, three rebounds, two assists – and a sparkling plus-13 on the stat sheet.

“We went to him just because of the circumstances,” Kerr said afterward, noting that his rotation changed because Draymond Green was in foul trouble and rookie guard Pat McCaw was injured in the first half.

“It seems like every time we’ve thrown Looney out there . . . he’s gotten the job done,” Kerr added. “He’s one of those guys, he doesn’t look that fast and doesn’t look like he jumps very high. But he knows what he’s doing and he makes plays.”

Looney was a McDonald’s All-America recruit out of Hamilton High in Milwaukee. He fell in love with UCLA, partly because of its tradition and partly because it was an escape from the harsh Wisconsin winters.

Shortly after arriving on campus, Looney made one false step and his hip yelped. He played through it well enough as a freshman to be chosen by the Warriors in the first round of the 2015 draft knowing the UCLA product might need a physical makeover.

The thinking, as conveyed by general manager Bob Myers, was that Looney was a lottery pick talent devalued by his medical report. The Warriors, with nearly everybody back from a championship team, were willing to be patient.

Looney underwent surgery on his right hip two months after the draft and eight months later, last April, had surgery on his left hip. He missed all but 21 minutes of his rookie season.

He literally had to re-learn how to walk and run. Twice.

And now he’s learning to live with the good health most NBA players take for granted.

“I feel more confident now than I did before, when I was playing with the injury, even in college,” Looney said. “I was scared to dribble and change directions because it would hurt to do it.”

Looney is trying to get his muscles and mind to remember what he once did as routine. Closing out hard on defense, for example. He hesitated at UCLA because he was afraid to tweak his hip. His comfort with dribbling increases a bit each day, and his natural shooting stroke is starting to resurface.

For what it’s worth, Looney in high school was perceived as similar at that level to one of his new teammates. A former MVP and four-time scoring champ. A guy named Kevin Durant. The long body, the longer wingspan and the shooting range surely were factors in that unfair comparison.

Though Looney is a long way from Durant, and realistically will not get to that level, he is OK with that. He’s occupied with seeing how high and how long he can go with his new and improved body.

“Being out so long, it takes a long time to get back,” Looney said. “Even if your body feels good, you still have to get your game legs and get used to the physical impact of traveling. It’s going to take a while to get used to.

“But the hardest part is over. Now it’s just about getting back my feel and working on the things I shied away from.”

DeMarcus Cousins shakes nerves, then rust in impressive Warriors debut

DeMarcus Cousins shakes nerves, then rust in impressive Warriors debut

LOS ANGELES — DeMarcus Cousins had a serious case of the nerves before his Warriors debut Friday night. His girlfriend, Morgan Lang, then reminded him how far he has come in his journey back to the NBA, and it settled him down.

Cousins’ return to the court not only was anticipated by the public but by the man himself. Nearly a year after his ruptured Achilles sidelined him from the sport he loves, he felt ready enough to play again.

Leading up to the game, Cousins felt a tightening of his stomach — butterflies. He was nervous. So much so that he text his family, who reminded him that he has been playing basketball his whole life. It should be like riding a bicycle.

It was Lang, however, who got through to Cousins most effectively.

“My girl,” Cousins said, “she sent me a great message before the game. It just put everything in perspective for me. She sent me this picture. It was the day after I had my surgery and I’m sitting in a wheelchair in L.A., staring out at a sunset.

“It wasn’t planned or anything, but you know she caught a good moment, and she sent it to me and was like, ‘Think about where you are now, and where you came from.’ It kind of put everything in perspective for me.”

Lang posted that same picture on Instagram.

Once the game clock started running, Cousins felt great, and the ride on the bike got smoother.

“Once the ball went up,” he said, “everything kind of went out the window, and it all fell from there.”

Cousins had a notable debut that was better than many expected. He played 15 minutes before fouling out to a standing ovation but only after scoring 14 points in the Warriors' 112-94 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Even Steve Kerr expressed that it was a kind of happy surprise.

“I would say so,” the Warriors coach said. “I didn’t anticipate him making three 3s. I know he can shoot from out there, we all know that, but first-game jitters and fatigue. I wouldn’t have expected him to knock down the two big shots that really broke the whole thing open. It was kind of fitting.”

Cousins said the entire night made him feel like a kid at Christmas.

“This is probably one of the best days of my life,” Cousins said. “Just being out there on the floor again playing the game that I love. My teammates were great. They supported me through this entire process.”

[RELATED: Cousins looks like perfect prescription for Warriors' needs]

While Cousins knows there’s still a long way to go in building chemistry with his new team and learning more of the offense, there were things that made him feel great about his first game back. One was his first-quarter dunk for his first two points as a Warrior.

“I’m just glad to know I can still dunk,” Cousins joked. “Nah, it felt good. I never would have thought in a million years that would have been my first basket playing ball again. But I like that it happened, and I wouldn’t change it.”

DeMarcus Cousins looks like perfect prescription for what Warriors need

DeMarcus Cousins looks like perfect prescription for what Warriors need

LOS ANGELES -- DeMarcus Cousins, still carrying the remnants of defiant reputation, fouled out of a basketball game Friday night, and walked off the court not with a sneer but a grin that lit up an entire arena.

Did it before thousands of curious eyes in America’s entertainment center, as well as millions around the globe.

Did it out of pure, unabashed joy.

Did it as his teammates, riding the wave created by a man who had to re-learn how to walk and run, were standing and grinning back just as broadly.

Playing for the first time in nearly a year, Cousins did not merely survive his Warriors debut. He thrived. And largely because he did, the Warriors carved out a 112-94 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.

“I felt like a kid on Christmas,” Cousins said. “It’s been a long journey ... but this was probably one of best days of my life.”

Merely by joining the Warriors in their 46th game of the season, Cousins sent a jolt of energy through his teammates and, perhaps, the entire franchise.

“It was just exciting, a good energy and feeling great about our teammate that is playing basketball again,” Stephen Curry said, describing the exuberance felt when Cousins was whistled for his sixth foul with 8:51 remaining.

Insofar as the Warriors are a talented bunch, accustomed to rousing success but also prone to lapses in focus, the big center is exactly what they need physically -- of course -- but also emotionally and even psychologically.

“He’s a really good teammate,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s an emotional guy. But he’s loved, because he cares about us. He’s hilarious. He’s just one of the guys.

“So that was one bright spot in the first half of the season. Even though he didn’t play, he was around our guys and they got to know him. And you could see how important that was in the second half when he was making those shots. Just how happy everybody was for him.”

Cousins played 15 minutes and finished plus-24 for his time on the court. He scored 14 points on 5 of 11 shooting, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc. He grabbed six rebounds and also had three assists, one steal and one block.

[RELATED: Watch Boogie's powerful dunk for his first Warriors points]

“In 15 minutes, he had 14 and six,” Kevin Durant said. “You turn that to 25 minutes, that’s an easy 25 and 10.”

There were times when the rust showed. He tried to execute a “Eurostep” maneuver, and it failed badly, resulting in an air ball. He earned points for courage but demerits for execution. And the fouls kept coming, some plainly legitimate and others less so.

Only once did Cousins flare up ever so briefly before going back to work.

No doubt much of Cousins’ joy stems from him dropping in a pair of 3-pointers 32 seconds apart, which expanded the Warriors’ lead from nine to 15. The Clippers never got any closer.

“When he hit two big shots that really broke the whole game open, it was kind of fitting,” Kerr said. “We’re all really happy for him. It’s been a long haul, a long road back for him. He looked great out there.”

It’s one thing to participate, quite another to contribute in such an impactful way.

Returning to NBA basketball after 11 months of rehabilitating a ruptured Achilles tendon, Cousins had to learn to walk again, and to run. Then, too, the intensity of intrasquad scrimmages can’t begin to compare to that of actual game action.

“It was amazing,” Curry said.

[RELATED: Cousins shakes nerves, rust in first game as a Warrior]

Cousins will keep defenses honest, as Durant said. He will provide strength in the middle, as Kerr said. He made them better immediately, and it’s only the beginning, as Curry noted.

“My teammates were great,” Cousins said. “They’ve supported me through this entire process. The organization has supported me through this entire process. They made it easy and smooth for me as much as they could.

“I thank them.”

It was just as clear that, on this night, they thank him. The Warriors are playing well, feeling good, and now they have a weapon that energizes them. Look out, NBA.