Posted By Press Democrat Staff Writer Michael Coit:

Vacationers head to Hawaii for relaxation. Matt Cousins finds basketball in paradise intense.

The often rough and tumble play has taken some getting used to, yet the former Cardinal Newman and Santa Rosa Junior College player is exceeding expectations at Chaminade University, an NCAA Division II school.

A starter since the season opener, the sophomore Cousins is fourth on the Silverswords at 8 points per game, second in rebounding with 5.5 a contest, and leads the team in blocked shots. Playing mostly center due to injuries on the team, Cousins is often banging down low against taller and bigger players.

“It’s a lot more physical. The little stuff that you couldn’t get away with in high school, the officials really don’t pay attention to it. They just kind of let you play,” Cousins said. “It definitely took me awhile to get used to.”

At 6 foot 8 inches and 220 pounds, Cousins is still on the small side for centers. But his size is an advantage when the Silverswords get out on breaks and he can find open spots for midrange jumpers.

“Coach just wants me to run the floor for open shots and get offensive rebounds for put backs,” he said.

Playing power forward more in recent practices, Cousins expects to slide over there as center Chris Smith works back into the rotation.

As the squad gets healthy, the Silverswords should win more games, Cousins said. Chaminade – 4-6 overall — won its Pacific West Conference opener on the road at Grand Canyon University on Thursday 71-62. Chaminade is picked to finish fourth in the nine team conference.

The first two losses came to a pair of marquee college basketball teams – Maryland and Vanderbilt – and the third to Colorado. As host of the prestigious Maui Invitational Tournament, the Silverswords open each season battle tested.

Going up against major college talent was difficult, but memorable, Cousins said.

“It was definitely eye opening. The biggest thing was the size of the entire team. You’re definitely at a disadvantage,” he said.

Chaminade, though, gets to play all three games on national television in front of its largest crowds of the season.

“The atmosphere was a lot of fun,” Cousins said.

Cousins’ also is settling into student life in Honolulu. A junior academically, he earned a 3.5 grade point average in his first semester as a business administration major.

If road trips are a part of college life, then Cousins gets plenty of mileage. Playing for a Hawaii school means long travels to schools in the West. Chaminade’s last swing of away games is to the Bay Area. The Silverswords play Academy of Art at Kezar Pavilion, in San Francisco, on March 2; at Notre Dame de Namur, in Belmont, two days later; and finish at Dominican, in San Rafael, on March 6.

Cousins looks to finish the season strong in front of family and friends. He expects the biggest turnout at the Dominican game, just down Highway 101 from Santa Rosa.

A year ago, he was a leader on the Santa Rosa Junior College team that reached the Nor Cal playoffs.

The style of play and his role on both teams, as a power forward that can play some center, is more suited to Cousins than his brief stint at Chico State University. There he was planted under the basket, leading Cousins to transfer to Santa Rosa Junior College after one semester.

Now he is scoring and rebounding more like the all-state and all-empire boys’ player of the year at Cardinal Newman and the Bear Cubs starter.

“The biggest adjustment was finding somewhere where I’m comfortable. You’re playing basketball the majority of the year, so you better enjoy it,” Cousins said. “I love it out here.”