Nothing about the start to Isaiah Cousins’ evening on May 27 indicated it would take the turn that it did.
A guard on the Oklahoma basketball team, Cousins had wrapped up his sophomore year of school in mid-May and returned home to Mount Vernon, N.Y. -- just north of the Bronx. He was visiting family and friends for a couple of weeks before he was scheduled to return to Norman in early June for summer school and team workouts.
“I went to go get a shirt for my friend. We were walking,” said Cousins. “It was just a regular Tuesday night.”
The three immediately fled, but not before one of them was struck by the bullet. It was (Isaiah) Cousins.
A little bit later Cousins said he was standing on a fence while his friend talked to another friend. Suddenly, from less than a block away, the sound of a gunshot terminated the conversation.
The three immediately fled, but not before one of them was struck by the bullet.
It was Cousins.
At first Cousins thought the bullet just grazed him. But after running two blocks he realized the situation was more severe.
“I think I got hit,” he declared to his friend.
A bloody back left shoulder confirmed his suspicion, and Cousins and a group of friends hurried to the hospital.
WORD REACHES NORMAN
According to media reports, a pair of Mount Vernon gangs had been involved in gunplay the previous day and the activity spilled into the next night. Police said Cousins was an innocent bystander when he was struck by the errant bullet. Nobody in his small group was a target, according to authorities.
6-4, 187, Jr., Guard
Mount Vernon, N.Y.
COUSINS IN 2013-14
It didn’t take long for word of the incident to reach Norman. OU assistant coach Lew Hill, who like Cousins grew up in Mount Vernon, was on a flight and had just landed when his phone started buzzing incessantly. Text messages and a phone call delivered the terrifying news.
Hill quickly called OU head coach Lon Kruger. Meanwhile, Cousins and his mother, Lisa, spent the night in a hospital in the Bronx. He was released the next morning.
Fortunately, the bullet struck the right-handed Cousins in an area of the left shoulder that contains dense muscle tissue. Although lodged inside him, the bullet did not hit any vital organs or bone.
Kruger was alarmed when he received the news.
“It’s very scary,” said Kruger, who was not able to talk to Cousins and his mom until the day after the incident. “I think the first thing that crosses your mind is you’re relieved that he’s OK. Then the second thing is how potentially scary and damaging that could have been for him and his family.”
Hill said Cousins knows he was fortunate.
“He understands. The first thing he said to me is, ‘I was lucky.’ That was our conversation on the phone. I said, ‘Yeah, you were real lucky. A few inches to the right or a few inches down or up, we’re having a different conversation.’”
Cousins said it’s normal to hear gunshots in Mount Vernon. Hill provided insight into what it can be like to live in certain sections of the city.
“The south side of town, where he got shot, that’s where I’m from,” explained Hill. “Isaiah’s from the other side, but a lot of his friends he grew up with are on that (south) side. It’s really dangerous there. You have some young people who are lost in their lives and so they turn to crime. And they don’t mind taking other peoples’ lives. It’s just a part of the culture and the life where we’re from.”
Three weeks after the incident, Cousins says he is progressing nicely. Since his return to Norman on June 8, he has been limited to shooting and dribbling drills, as well as some weight room exercises with his teammates.
“It’s healing pretty good and the hole is closing up,” said Cousins. “The arm is just a little stiff.”
Kruger added that physical recovery isn’t the only thing with which the 6-4, 187-pound guard is contending.
“He’s doing well, doing great,” said the coach. “He is very fortunate to come out of a tough situation as well as he did, apparently. Emotionally and mentally it will probably take him a little bit more time to get through it than maybe physically.”
OU athletic trainer Alex Brown said team physician Brock Schnebel spoke with Cousins’ New York doctor and that the Sooners’ medical staff performed tests on Cousins once he returned to Norman. The plan is to leave the bullet in his shoulder.
"Taking (the bullet) out could actually be more traumatic than it going in... Where it is, it’s in a nice, safe place."
OU Athletic Trainer
“Taking it out could actually be more traumatic than it going in,” said Brown. “There’s a chance other problems could occur if you go exploring to pull it out. Where it is, it’s in a nice, safe place.”
Brown says Cousins looks fine and is just going to need a little more time to fully heal.
“There’s not a lot of rehab to do with that (injury),” said Brown. “We just want Mother Nature to kind of do her thing. The hard part is just the sitting and not being able to do everything he’d like to be doing at the moment.”
Asked when Cousins will likely be fully cleared to resume all athletic activities, Brown said it could be just about any time.
“We hope another week at the most. It could be longer, but young people get well really fast. He might walk in tomorrow and say, ‘Hey, I’m ready to go.’ We’re getting close to that point.”
Cousins blossomed during the 2013-14 season, OU’s best campaign in five years. The Sooners finished with a 23-10 record, claimed sole possession of second place in the Big 12 Conference and were a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
After averaging 2.7 points on .279 field goal, .250 3-point and .684 free throw shooting as a freshman, Cousins started all 33 games his sophomore season and averaged 11.0 points. He shot .441 from the floor, .404 from behind the arc and .804 from the foul line and was named the most improved player at the team’s postseason banquet.
Known for his ultra-competitive nature and tireless work ethic, it stands to reason Cousins will continue to improve on the court. He said his goal for the 2014-15 season is to make first-team All-Big 12.
Kruger said not to put anything past Cousins.
"I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I just happened to get shot. A bullet doesn’t have a name (on it)."
“Isaiah’s game has matured in so many ways, across the board,” said Kruger. “He made a big jump from his freshman year to his sophomore year, and we expect that to continue because he does work so hard. He’s so committed to it. He has lofty goals and wants to get better every day. He’ll continue to improve his shooting, his composure, his ball-handling, his defense and rebounding. Across the board, I think we’ll see him jump again.”
Will having a bullet in his shoulder pose any issues for Cousins? Brown says it shouldn’t.
“I think it’s going to be something he’ll get used to and over time just forget about,” said the trainer. “He may get hit on it at some point. I kind of look forward to him getting hit in that area just to let him know, ‘Hey, I’m going to be OK.’”
Asked to reflect on the entire situation, Cousins said it could have happened to anyone. And in some ways it may aid him in the long run.
“I was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said. “I just happened to get shot. A bullet doesn’t have a name (on it). It probably wasn’t meant for me. I just happened to be in the way of the bullet.
“Everything happens for a reason. It’s just a motivation for the future.”
Written by: Mike Houck