Deconstructing Cousins v. Swopshire
I want to go on record stating that I believe that DeMarcus Cousins was wrong to retaliate against Jared Swopshire and that he should have been assessed a technical foul, as he was, and that Swopshire was correctly assessed one as well. If you disagree with me on this point, then argue with the three officials on the floor and the NCAA Chair of Officiating, John Adams, who reviewed it. If you can convince them, I'll concede.
Adams says the officials on the floor got it right:
"[The officials] reviewed the play and assessed an intentional personal foul to Cousins," Adams said. "It was offset by an intentional personal foul on a Louisville player and they had a taunting T on another Louisville player. That taunting T resulted in the two free throws that Cousins shot as he was designated by Kentucky to shoot free throws."
But I would like, instead, to focus on the events that led up to the wrestling match, because events look very different as the context changes. Even our legal system considers context. Shooting someone is bad, for example, but maybe not if it's done in self-defense, or if the person shooting is a police officer trying to protect someone. We really need more information than a video of Cousins' forearm and Swopshire's head, so let's back up.
Now, you probably think you know where I'm going with this, but I doubt that you do. Stick with me.
A second camera angle shows that Swopshire kneed Cousins in the head just before he was forearmed in retaliation. The video doesn't tell us whether or not the knee was intentional; no one knows that except Swopshire, though Adams clearly states that he considers both fouls intentional. But, let's assume it was unintentional. I've played a lot of basketball and I have been kneed and elbowed about everywhere I could be. A knee to the calf gave me a hematoma once that sent me to the hospital.
I very rarely responded to a knee or elbow by wanting to punch someone, but it did happen a few times. I normally assumed it was incidental contact, basketball being a rough sport, unless someone had been incessantly talking trash and hacking away at me prior to the contact. Then I assumed it was intentional and I retaliated.
(I didn't retaliate when Reggie Haynes elbowed be in the nose and gave me a concussion, but then he was on my team and he was also a tight end for the Washington Redskins playing in our league during the offseason. Let's just say I gave him the benefit of the doubt, too.) The trash talking and the physical taunts in the UK-UofL game have been well documented, so I think it's safe to assume that whether or not the knee was intentional, DeMarcus Cousins believed it was and he retaliated.
He shouldn't have. There is no excuse for a forearm to the head in basketball at any level. Furthermore, everyone who watches or plays sports knows that the player who retaliates is often the one who gets caught by the referees. That's the idea behind a baiting strategy. If Jared kneed Cousins intentionally, shame on him. I'm still giving him the benefit of the doubt. If you believe Cousins wasn't kneed at all after seeing Cousins' head snap back after contact in the video, you're self-deluding. The NCAA Chair of Officiating and the officials on the floor saw it.
Why would Cousins believe he had been kneed intentionally and was expected to retaliate? Because that was the atmosphere created before the game , with verbal and physical taunting beginning in the tunnel before tip-off.
I don't believe anyone is denying that Pitino's strategy was to try to intimidate and unnerve Kentucky's underclassmen. He had to do something, he was clearly outgunned. But, Calipari expected this from Pitino and tried to prepare his team:
"Coach (Calipari) said don't talk to them," Wall said. "But don't let them punk you."
Cousins is widely known to have trouble controlling his emotions on the floor, so he was an obvious target, as was freshman Eric Bledsoe. So, we have a freshman superstar with known emotional control problems and enormous biceps exploited by Pitino's “strategy” to bait UK players into losing their focus on the game. On the other side, we have John Calipari, a coach I love by the way, telling his players all week not to give an inch, not to be “punked.”
Where were the coaches when the trash talk started in the tunnel? Pitino didn't show up until the last minute. Then he instructed his team to ignore introductions and turn their backs, fanning the flames instead of cooling the emotions. Instead of insisting that his players not be punked, Calipari should have warned them that Louisville would bait them and he should have coached them to control their emotions and not retaliate. Louisville wanted a fight. Why give it to them?
The coaches are supposed to be the grown-ups in this scenario. Instead, one hypes his team all week and coaches them to try to physically intimidate the Cats and the other spends the week demanding that his team take not one word of crap from the Cards.
Then Pitino focusses on getting into the head of the one 18-year old emotional kid most likely to lose it. Teenagers played this game on national television and in front of twenty-four thousand fans. If you don't want to get “punked,” you certainly don't want it in front of a million people. The inevitable wrestling match ensues, a player is kneed in the head, intentional or not, Cousins assumes it's intentional and he retaliates. Ugly all around.
What a great strategy, like pouring gasoline on the floor, handing matches to a bunch of kids and then blaming the kids for the inevitable fire. Sports “analysts” (title inflation to be sure) apparently can't analyze beyond the immediacy of the last frame of video, blaming the entire event on a college freshman being a thug. They write that other teams will see this game and try the same strategy with Cousins in the future. Really? Why, because it worked so well? Cousins got 18 points, 18 rebounds and was named SEC Player of the Week.
The pros, grown men (mostly), don't even handle these situations well (see Tomjanovich v. Washington, Laimbeer v. Parrish), so what did the coaches think would happen when they created an explosive environment for a bunch of teenagers?
I agree with the NCAA that the two players should not have been ejected. But, maybe the two coaches should have been. Hopefully, they learn from this and leave their silly personal rivalry and stupid mind games at home from now on, so we can see some basketball. And hopefully, other coaches will note the outcome and realize this wasn't such a great strategy, after all.
Told you you didn't know where I was going with this.
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