By Shaun Powell, NBA.com
LOS ANGELES -- Truth be told, John Wall wanted to make one more pass, this time after the buzzer, to throw the MVP award to his former college teammate. It would've made for a perfect night.
"We talked about it before the game," said DeMarcus Cousins. "We were kind of trying to work together. He wanted to break the assist record I and wanted MVP. Well, he got both."
It was satisfying enough, anyway, for two players who bolted Kentucky after one season for NBA riches, three if you count Eric Bledsoe, who also played for the rookies against the sophomores last night at Staples Center. Wall was in his element at the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge, firing lasers and lobs to teammates cutting to the basket that resulted in entertaining dunks. His 22 assists are the new standard, five more than Chris Paul managed in 2007 (Wall confessed: "I was keeping track."). Cousins, meanwhile, managed a big night on the boards (14 rebounds) and scoreboard (33 points, fourth-highest in the game's history) to distance himself from an embarrassing episode four days earlier, when he was disciplined by the Kings for yet another lapse of immaturity.
And the rookies beat the sophomores 148-140, which was a welcome change for two in particular. The last time Cousins and Wall wore the same uniform, they walked off the floor in defeat, with heads bowed, after failing to reach the NCAA title game.
"It was fun," Cousins said. "I had some flashbacks. It was definitely good being out there with John. That one year didn't last long enough, but it's over now."
The pull of money and new challenges was too strong to ignore last spring, so Cousins and Wall left Kentucky following their freshman year and surrendered another crack at a championship. It made sense, from a personal standpoint; Wall was the No. 1 pick and Cousins went fifth. Both were NBA-ready anyway, and the Wizards and Kings saw Wall and Cousins as foundation-builders, players who in time would turn around franchises suffering from a string of poor seasons.
Yet the Wizards and Kings suffer still, from a combined 28-79 record at the All-Star break, despite decent efforts from their rookies. The difficult task of elevating teams that are stuck in rebuilding is about all Cousins and Wall have had in common, though.
Cousins has rebelled often this season, stretching team rules and breaking them, essentially fulfilling the prophecy that many saw coming before the season. The latest was a dust-up with Kings teammate Donte' Green, whose crime was failing to pass Cousins the ball in the closing moments of a loss. That was enough to get Cousins tossed off a road trip for one game and fined. The Kings love his potential and energy while being wary of his emotional state and reckless impulses. He's only 20, and the one year spent at Kentucky obviously didn't allow him enough time to mature and grow and carry himself professionally.
He's had some flashes of brilliance, however, and in his first game back from suspension, Cousins dropped 16 points with 12 rebounds, four assists, three steals and a pair of blocked shots. He's now averaging 14 points and eight rebounds. For that reason, the Kings will live with the baggage he brings, because the talent is just too evident.
The only issue with Wall has been his durability, but that's beginning to wane. He's delivering nearly nine assists, sixth in the league, while getting 1.7 steals. The flash and fast hands is helping Wall rapidly become a draw not only at home but even on the road, where the Wizards can't win a game. Does the victory over the sophomores qualify as a road win? If so, Wall will take it.
"John has improved so much," said Cousins. "He's always been an incredible passer, but the way he just makes everybody on the floor better, that's something he's getting better at with every game."
Wall kept the crowd alive with several entertaining passes, even a bouncer to Blake Griffin for a dunk that was the game's signature play. However, most of his passes were reserved for Cousins, partly because they have a history, however brief, of knowing how to connect.
"DeMarcus' game has matured a lot," said Wall. "We talk and try to keep each other on the right path. He plays aggressively and people take how to play aggressively the wrong way sometimes. You can see, when he gets his head straight, he can't be stopped."
For one night, an encore as it turned out, two former college teammates couldn't be denied. Well, for the most part. Wall did get the MVP and the assist record. But perhaps Cousins grabbed something more valuable: a game that reminded him how fun basketball can be again, if he cooperates.
2010: Rooks break Sophomore string
As if their season-long race for the first year honors wasn't already close enough, Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings brought their duel to the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge.
Evans rolled up 26 points, six rebounds and five assists, Jennings scored 22 points with eight assists and six rebounds and together they led the Rookies to a 140-128 win over the Sophomores. The win ended a string of seven straight by the Sophomores, the first time the Rookies came out on top since 2002.
Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City scored 40 points for the Sophomores.
2009: Durant keeps Sophomore streak alive
Kevin Durant scored a Rookie Challenge record 46 points on 17-for-25 shooting and was named MVP as he almost single-handedly sent the Sophomores to a 122-116 win at the U.S. Airways Center.
"I play with the guy, I see him do it every night," said Jeff Green. "He's a tremendous player."
2008: Gibson's triples lifts Sophomores
Sophomore sharpshooter Daniel Gibson gave the Rookies 11 good reasons why experience pays off. The Cavs' combo guard nailed a record 11 3-pointers in his 20 attempts and scored 33 points as the Sophomores beat the Rookies 136-109 in the 2008 T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam at New Orleans Arena. The Sophmores' victory was their sixth straight over the Rookies.
2007: Lee perfect in Sophomore win
David Lee hit all 14 of his field-goal attempts for a game-high 30 points as the Sophomore beat the Rookies for the fifth consecutive year, 155-114. Lee, who added 11 rebounds and four assists, was named MVP of the 2007 T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam. Chris Paul notched rookie-game records of 17 assists and nine steals to go with 16 points. Rudy Gay and Paul Millsap paced the Rookie squad with 22 points apiece.
2006: Iguodala emerges as Sophs roll
Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala notched 24 of his game-high 30 points in the second half as the Sophomores topped the Rookies 106-96 in the 2006 T-Mobile Rookie Challenge in Houston. Iguodala, the game's Most Valuable Player, made 13-of-17 from the field and added six rebounds, four steals and three assists.
2005: Carmelo carries Sophomores
On his way to MVP honors, hometown favorite Carmelo Anthony scored 19 of his game-high 31 points in the second half to power the Sophomores to a 133-106 win over the Rookies.