By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
- Taking advantage of second-chance opportunities is something Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner constantly preaches to his team.
He’ll be preaching to the converted when he talks about that with freshman center Evan Cole.
The 6-11, 211-pound forward from Cumming, Ga., is basically at Georgia Tech on a second chance. Cole had been bound for UNC-Wilmington, but was released from the commitment when Kevin Keatts, the coach that recruited him, left to take took the job at North Carolina State.
Given another chance on the recruiting trail, Cole visited, then committed to Georgia Tech -- choosing the Flats and Pastner over a re-commitment attempt by Keatts, which included a visit to Raleigh.
“I did take an official visit to NC State, and I did like NC State, but I felt like Georgia Tech was a better option for me,” said Cole, who will get the opportunity to catch up with Keatts on March 1 at McCamish Pavilion. “I was a late decision-maker. I didn’t make my decision until late May.”
He insists the decision was ALL his, even though there was quite a weight in Georgia Tech’s favor at home. That weight came in the person of his stepmom, Jessica Sallinger-Cole, legendary Yellow Jackets softball pitcher and class of 2015 inductee into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame, whose image can be seen every time Evan passes Mewborn Field next door to McCamish Pavilion, and whose name is all over the award boards at the Edge Center.
“She definitely wanted me to come here,” he said, with a laugh. “Knowing my stepmom was a Hall of Famer here when I was trying to make my decision, it is funny seeing my stepmom’s name around the athletic buildings. It’s fun to follow her footsteps in a way. I’ve seen her poster on the side of the softball stadium and saw she was a two-time All-American and ACC Player of the Year. It’s pretty cool.”
As cool as all that was, the tipping point in choosing to attend Georgia Tech was his visit to campus.
“When I came here and met with the team and the players, I felt like it was the right place for me,” he said. “I felt like I’d bond in with the team well, which I did.”
Cole believes he’ll bond on the floor with the number of things he’s able to do. He was a solid player at both ends of the floor in high school for South Forsyth, averaging a double-double (20.5 points, 11.0 rebounds) his final two seasons, as well as 3.0 blocks per game. He left as the school’s second-leading career scorer and its all-time shot-blocker, leading the War Eagles to back-to-back state playoff appearances for the first time in nine years.
Evan is confident his game can translate to D-I and the ACC.
“I think my strengths are being so versatile and how hard I play,” he said. “I think it can help me in just being harder to defend, me being able to play inside and outside, maybe gives the opponent a harder matchup.”
That versatility isn’t limited to only scoring inside and outside. He’s also proud of his ability to keep his opponent from scoring, regardless of position.
“I feel like it can help me in just being able to guard more positions on the floor,” he said. “I feel like if I play hard and can be versatile and do a lot of different things for my team it can help us win.”
He’s made the adjustment to the speed of the game -- and the speed of Pastner’s game.
“Watching the pace is a different story than actually going in and doing it, it feels a lot faster when you’re actually in the game, running it,” he said. “The pace is a lot faster than I’m used to, but it’s been a fun time getting to practice with the team and getting to ball with each other. So it’s pretty fun.
“When I first got here, I was out of shape, and it was hard to play at a fast pace the whole time,” he added. “But as practice has gone on, with the conditioning and whatnot, I’ve gotten in shape so we can all play at a faster pace.”
Unfortunately, things came to a sudden halt for Evan a few weeks back, when he was forced to sit for more than a week after suffering a concussion in practice.
“He was out eight or nine days,” said Pastner. “I think that affected him. He lost rhythm. But the last few days he’s been really good. That’s really positive. He’s going to be good. As long as he takes good shots, stays within the confines of the offense and really focuses on rebounding both offensively and defensively and violently cutting, he’s going to be a good player.”
Cole is eager to produce for Georgia Tech and continue the winning that started last season.
“They accomplished a lot of great things in Coach Pastner’s first year,” he said. “He’s a great coach. He’s great about coaching us in a safe environment. He doesn’t cuss at us and whatnot. He gets his message across in a good way. He’s a great coach on and off the floor.”
Cole is looking forward to being a great player in whatever role Pastner needs for him, starting with the exhibition game against Faulkner, of the NAIA’s Southern States Athletic Conference, on Thursday, then, eight days later in the season-opener against preseason No. 21 UCLA, in China.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I’ve never left the country. It’s going to be a real fun time in Shanghai. I’m looking forward to playing on ESPN in Shanghai against UCLA. It’s going to be a fun time.”