Oklahoma assistant coach Lew Hill grew up in the same rough New York City suburb of Mt. Vernon as Cousins and remembers the gun shots he heard all the time as a boy.
Hill was driving to Las Vegas on the night of May 27 and checked his phone to see 10 missed calls – all from Mt. Vernon. He knew something wasn’t good.
The news eventually reached Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger well after midnight. He was given the news in the best way possible: Cousins was OK, but he had been shot.
“You think about how bad it could have been,” Kruger said. “. . . If you think about that, it’s life-altering for sure.”
Cousins was hit in the back of his left shoulder by a stray bullet that police said stemmed from an argument between two gangs. Cousins was doing nothing wrong, and police said he wasn’t a target.
He was sitting outside – a custom in Mt. Vernon, especially when it gets hot – and talking with his friend.
At first, Cousins just heard the bullet. He thought it went by him when he and his friend started to run. It wasn’t until two blocks later when he turned back and saw the blood that his friend pointed out on his shirt that Cousins realized he had been hit.
That’s also how Cousins knew he’d be alright.
“After I got shot, I kept running,” Cousins said. “Normally when people get shot, they fall to the ground. But as soon as I heard (the gun shot), I was running pretty fast.”
Mt. Vernon isn’t all bad. Hill said it’s “like any urban ghetto area.”
“There’s drugs and violence, there’s lack of education, there’s lack of knowledge,” he said. “That’s something that happens when people don’t see a way out.”
Hill and Cousins are two of those people who have found a way out. Kruger said that Cousins was back to normally physically almost immediately. Hill said that mentally he is probably a little more shaken up than he’s let people believe.
“Being from that area, he’s like a son,” Hill said. “When a family member gets shot, it affects you. Knowing how he’s grown these last couple years, it was . . . devastating.”
Cousins’ growth on the basketball court has helped lead to lofty expectations for the Sooners this season. One of four returning starters to a team that made the NCAA Tournament last season, Cousins watched his point per game average jump from 2.7 in his freshman season to 11.0 as a sophomore.
His three-point percentage went from 27.9 percent to 40.4.
He was even running Oklahoma’s offense from the point during practice early this week.
“He's so crucial,” Oklahoma forward Buddy Hield said. “He's always fired up. He's that New York personality. . . . He's just competitive. I like that with him.”
Cousins has a stoic personality. He speaks sure of himself, not wasting words when they’re not needed. That Tuesday night in the spring was still a shock.
He went to two different hospitals, after the first didn’t have a trauma unit. He was transferred to the Bronx, but his cell phone had died. A friend had to call Cousins’ mother, who came rushing to the side of her first born as doctors tried to determine whether to remove the bullet or not.
They didn’t remove it, but Cousins has full mobility in his shoulder now. He equated having a bullet stuck in his back to having a metal plate inserted to fix a broken bone.
It will also serve as a reminder.
“It just gives you more motivation to appreciate every day,” said Cousins, who doesn’t have nightmares about the incident. He doesn’t have nightmares, period. “ . . . You’ve gotta appreciate every day.”
Hill didn’t waste life lessons on Cousins when he talked with him on that spring night. He waited until Cousins return to Norman, where Hill embraced Cousins but not before Hill’s son L.J. did.
“In our neighborhood, you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Hill said. “You can be in the right place at the wrong time, too. It doesn’t matter. It’s not like it’s any worse than anything else. It’s just how it happened that day.”
That not-as-normal Tuesday.