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"ALL GROWN UP" // South Forsyth senior Evan Cole holds his phone showing a picture of him in ninth grade on the War Eagles basketball team. South head coach Scott Givens remembers him then as a 6-foot-3 string bean who was already displaying the potential that made him the 2016-17 FCN Boys Basketball Player of the Year. - photo by Micah Green

After a summer in which he racked up a flurry of college scholarship offers, South Forsyth senior forward Evan Cole anticipated he would receive the ultimate sign of respect from opponents this season: the junk defense.

The question was, how would the 6-foot-8 forward handle it?

“Every game, teams planned to try to stop him,” South head coach Scott Givens said. “He wasn’t guarded by one man very much. Whether teams played zone, whether teams packed it in and played man. There were a few teams that played him straight up, and he made them pay.”

Indeed, Cole made almost every team pay averaging 20 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks a game to help the War Eagles reach the state playoffs for the second straight season, the first time South made consecutive state playoff appearances since 2007-08.

Three games in to the season, an opponent felt confident enough not to utilize some special defensive approach to stop the University of North Carolina at Wilmington signee in Riverwood, a top 10-ranked team at the time. Bad idea: Cole scored 38 points to help South win the East Jackson Thanksgiving Shootout.

But few teams felt that confident.

“It’s the ultimate sign of respect when they do that,” Givens said, “but it’s frustrating, it’s frustrating as a player. He got better at taking care of the ball when there were double, triple teams around him and moving it out of the congestion. He had an outstanding year.”

In the process, Cole put his name in the school record books. He finished his career as the school’s all-time leader in rebounds and blocks. He finished second in points but almost surely would’ve broke that record too if not for missing 10 games his junior season or playing junior varsity as a freshman.

Even that freshman season, when Cole was just 6-foot-3 and a “string bean,” as Givens remembers, he displayed the kind of talent at a summer league at Georgia College and State University that would propel South back into a contender.

“I saw him make a couple jumpers from about 16, 17 feet, and I thought, man, this kid right here,” Givens said. “He just had some tools about him that other kids didn’t have.”

Givens was right.

FCN: What’s your favorite basketball memory at South?

Cole: “My favorite basketball memory was my junior year. We played the No. 3 seed Centennial (in the Region 6-6A tournament). We were the No. 6 seed. We had struggled all year because I had been out all season. We came out there and took it to them, and we won that game. That was one of my best moments walking off that court.”

FCN: What is your favorite individual performance this season?

Cole: “The Thanksgiving tournament. I dropped 38 points on Riverwood, which was a top 10 team in the state. It was a lot of fun.

“I felt like my teammates were giving me an opportunity to have a high number scoring. I felt like I was hitting 3s. If they took away the 3, I’d get to the hole. I really did a lot that game.”

FCN: What are you going to take away from being a part of South Forsyth basketball?

Cole: “Throughout my high school career, I feel like I matured on the court, I became a better all-around player. I know how to handle myself better. Like a team game, I feel like I work better with my team.”

FCN: You’re going to University of North Carolina at Wilmington, an NCAA Tournament team. What made them so good this season?

Cole: “They got up and down the court like one of the best teams in the nation. They put up 90 points a game. They shot a high 3-point percentage, and they had the leading field goal percentage in Davonte Cacok.”

FCN: Cacok went to Alpharetta High School while your teams were both in Region 6-6A. What do you remember about him then?

Cole: “He’s a really good player. He was a strong guy that would take it to you in the post. You had to fight for position. He could just rise up on you if you weren’t careful.”