Scott Givens calls Evan Cole the best player he’s ever had as a head coach.
He pauses briefly before realizing there’s more to that sentence.
“Even as an assistant,” Givens said, “he’s probably the best one.”
Cole, South Forsyth’s all-time leader in blocks and rebounds, has carved out a role as Georgia Tech’s sixth man this season, averaging 4.6 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
And when the Yellow Jackets stepped out of conference play earlier this month to face Kentucky, Givens and his son made the six-hour drive to Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.
Georgia Tech fell 67-53, but Cole wasted no time making an impact, knocking down a rangy 3-pointer to tie the game 9-9 six minutes in.
His rebound on a missed Kentucky shot allowed him to find teammate Bubba Parham, who completed the six-point swing with a 3-pointer of his own, putting the Yellow Jackets ahead 12-9 and signaling to the Wildcats they would not be an easy out.
Cole finished the game with five points, sinking the only two shots he attempted and pulling down two rebounds.
“Me and my son drove up to Lexington last week to watch him,” Givens said. “I’m a big Kentucky fan, and when they scheduled that game this summer, I told him that we were coming. I thought he should have played more minutes in that game.”
Cole is averaging just shy of 14 minutes per game but is one of six players on the team to play in all 10 games.
“He’s an energy guy, and he’s played well for us for the most part,” Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner said. “I know he probably hasn’t gotten as much time as he would like, but I can’t speak enough about his character and the type of young man he is.”
Coincidentally, Cole saw playing time earlier than expected in his freshman year with Georgia Tech.
After a torrent of injuries, Cole saw significant minutes in the second half of his freshman year, beginning with a 10-point performance against Duke.
Cole responded to the boost in playing time by averaging 6.3 points per game through the team’s final eight games.
“I think he should be playing more, to be honest with you. That’s my personal opinion,” Givens said. “Evan has played well when he’s been given opportunities – that’s been his freshman, sophomore and junior year. It’s college, he’s fighting through it and he’s going to graduate in three years.”
Cole was in position to carry that momentum into his sophomore year, starting the first two games of the season, but he sprained his ankle Nov. 13 against Tennessee and missed the next three weeks.
That, combined with catching the flu and the emergence of 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward Moses Wright, made for a volatile year for Cole.
Now, fully healthy, Cole is flashing signs that he’s ready to shoulder a larger role. He’s come close to a double-double twice this season: once against Elon (9 points, 9 rebounds) and two weeks later against Arkansas (8 points, 9 rebounds).
He was also the team’s leading scorer (12 points per game) and rebounder (6 rebounds per game) during a summer tournament in Spain.
“Evan Cole’s a phenomenal young man,” Cole said. “He’s on track to graduate from Georgia Tech in three years next spring, so really proud of him. High-character person, solid player, continues to get better. Like I said, to be in position to graduate from Georgia Tech, a school like this, in three years is pretty cool.”
Listed at 6-foot-10, 226 pounds, Cole has grown a couple of inches since his senior season with the War Eagles and a full seven inches since his arriving at South Forsyth as a freshman.
“Evan has grown up so much. It’s amazing how much he’s matured,” Givens said. “I mean, he was a man in a boy’s body when he was here.”
Georgia Tech is wrapping up a Christmas tournament this week in Hawaii, but will face an immediate series of tests in January when the Yellow Jackets travel to North Carolina then host Duke to start 2020.
“I hope they get it together. They’ve been a little inconsistent,” Givens said. “And, of course, I want him to play more. Me and him stay in contact. He’s my guy, now.”