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Oklahoma basketball: How Mount Vernon, N.Y., shaped OU's Isaiah Cousins

OU assistant coach Lew Hill and guard Isaiah Cousins are both from Mount Vernon, N.Y., which is Hill describes as part New York City and part suburb. Slowly, the New York City edge is coming off Cousins off the court, but that edge has stayed on his game.
by Ryan Aber Published: March 18, 2014

— Oklahoma assistant Lew Hill knows Isaiah Cousins.

Not the way most assistant coaches know their players, though.

Hill really knows Cousins.

“He’s me,” Hill said. “That’s what I tell him, he was me. I went through the same stuff.”

Both grew up in Mount Vernon, N.Y., a city part suburb and part urban New York City.

“It’s like being part of New York City in a different way,” Cousins said. “We kind of dress how the city is and we kind of talk like that.”

Slowly, the New York City edge is coming off Cousins off the court. That edge has stayed on his game, though, and made him the Sooners’ best perimeter defender and a dangerous threat both outside and close to the basket on offense.

Cousins and the Sooners open the NCAA Tournament against North Dakota State at 6:27 p.m. Thursday at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

Hill first caught sight of Cousins when he went home to recruit Jabarie Hinds when Hill was an assistant under current Sooner coach Lon Kruger at UNLV.

“Everybody was saying, ‘You need to look at Isaiah as well,’” Hill said. “There were some similarities in us because we’re both tall point guards. Now, he’s more of a combo but I played more point. I could see his future though. I didn’t know his work habits but I said if he works hard, he’s going to be good later on.”

Work habits haven’t been a question since.

“Now nobody works harder than he does,” Hill said. “He’s just starting to get some of the fruits from that work.”

And Hill is seeing the fruits of his, both on and off the court.

The sometimes icy demeanor that Cousins has displayed off the court is starting to fade away.

The smiles, which he kept well-hidden not too long ago, have been coming much easier recently.

“He’s always had a pretty smile,” Hill said. “I’m always telling him, ‘Smile, the world ain’t coming to an end.’ Now, everybody else is starting to see his personality. Now, you’re starting to see his softer side. He had to go through a process though. It wasn’t easy but life is not easy. He’s put work into it and it’s being rewarded.”

Hill knows that process.

He grew up on the south side of Mount Vernon, near the Bronx.

“It’s a town of hardship and unemployment and ghetto per se, but it’s a place where you have a lot of love,” Hill said. “It’s a place that if you work hard and stay on the right course, you can get out of there too.”

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by Ryan Aber
OU Athletics Reporter
Ryan Aber has worked for The Oklahoman since 2006, covering high schools, the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the Oklahoma City Barons and OU football recruiting. An Oklahoma City native, Aber graduated from Northeastern State. Before joining The...
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