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Basketball: South alum Evan Cole makes a name for himself as freshman at Georgia Tech
Former South Forsyth star Evan Cole carved out a significant role as a freshman after initially expecting to see few minutes. Photo courtesy Georgia Tech.

The momentum from his acrobatic flying put-back dunk caused Evan Cole to fall to the court, but there was no time to recover. The Georgia Tech forward was playing at home against Duke, and that meant transition defense was paramount. So Cole hurried to pick himself up and get back to the other end.

As he did, the South Forsyth grad heard something he never expected to his freshman year with the Yellow Jackets.

The student section inside McCamish Pavilion was chanting his name.


“It gave me goosebumps,” Cole said.

How had it come to this? In the same manner as much of Cole’s basketball journey that has been filled with unexpected nudges of fortuity.

He came to South freshman year, 6-foot-3 but left at 6-foot-8 with skills and bounce. He entered the summer before his senior season with barely a whiff of college interest and left with dozens of scholarship offers. He chose UNC-Wilmington, but got a release from his commitment when head coach Kevin Keatts left for the job at North Carolina State. Cole landed at Georgia Tech, where he would be playing in the ACC, the conference he grew up watching.

He knew what that meant.

“I knew it was going to be a challenge playing ACC basketball,” Cole said.

And it was. Early on, Cole played sparingly, if at all, and when he did get playing time, his nerves raced almost every second he was on the court, especially when ACC play began. His passes were less crisp, his shots were less sure, and he fouled too frequently on defense.

Georgia Tech had enough capable forwards, and Cole clearly wasn’t comfortable, so second-year head coach Josh Pastner put him and fellow freshman Moses Wright on an unofficial redshirt program. They would wake up early for extra workouts to improve their agility, strength and fundamentals, but they wouldn’t be counted on to contribute on the court. Cole’s season would play out in the background.

Cole decided to approach the situation like an investor: All the extra work would pay off one day.

“My opportunity will come,” Cole said, “and all this work will pay off. That was the way I kind of attacked it.”

That opportunity came sooner than expected. Injuries began to mount for the Yellow Jackets in the midst of an already disappointing season, and Cole’s unofficial redshirt was pulled.

It was right in time for the Duke game on February 11. Cole had played 22 minutes in Georgia Tech’s previous 12 games, but that night he came off the bench to provide a career-high 10 points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal in 21 minutes.

The highlight came late in the second half, when guard Tadric Jackson missed a 3-pointer from the corner. As the ball descended toward the hoop, Cole darted to the basket from the opposite side. The ball bounced off the rim, and Cole leapt to meet it in the air with two hands.

The dunk that followed invigorated the home crowd and wound up being among SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays that night. Video of it was widely shared on social media, which is where Cole first saw it the following day.

“I was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy,’” Cole said.

The moment only underscored how far Cole had come. After that performance, Cole started Georgia Tech’s final seven games, averaging 27.4 minutes, 5.7 points and 5.3 rebounds. He recorded his first collegiate double-double against Wake Forest on March 3 with 10 points and 10 rebounds. He went from playing a season in the shadows to starting as a freshman in the ACC.

“Being able to start in the ACC as a freshman ... that’s a lot of fun,” Cole said. “It’s all my dreams growing up.”

Cole has already begun preparations for taking the next step, which he feels will hinge on developing into a reliable scorer. Cole said Pastner has challenged the team to make 10,000 3-pointers before next school year, so he shoots every day with assistant coach Julian Schwartz.

It’s hard work, of course, but Cole has already seen how that can pay off.