Fearless Cole to play for Pioneers

By Jeff Birchfield

   "Ben Cole is fearless," said Unaka High head basketball coach Donald Ensor about the newest roundball signee for Tusculum College. "That sums up his style of play."
   Cole, the 6-3 post player, formed a deadly duo for Ranger opponents on the front line along with teammate Aaron Dugger. Now, he's taking those skills to the next level for the Pioneers, coming off a 15-13 season, 8-6 in the South Atlantic Conference.
   The close proximity of Tusculum was a factor in Cole's decision to become a Pioneer.
   "I'm really excited," admitted Cole. "I really liked it down there and I like that I can come home on weekends and visit with my friends and family."
   On the basketball floor, the coaches marveled at the way Cole excelled as a defensive stopper.
   "I've always been told that defense wins games," said Cole. "If that's what I need to do to help the team win games, that's what I'm going to do. Playing your hardest is the most important thing about defense."
   While Dugger captured more headlines with his high scoring average, Cole's offensive stats were nothing to scoff at, posting numbers of 17 points and nine rebounds per game.
   "He can shoot anywhere from three-point line to the baseline," said Ensor. "Ben was the best one we had taking the ball off the dribble to the hole.
   "Sometimes when you play with someone like Aaron you get overlooked, but Ben Cole was a solid double-double for us, night in and night out. Half of the assists to Aaron came from Ben. He passes the ball very well."
   As a team the Rangers enjoyed great success this past season, making it all the way to Murfreesboro to the Tennessee state championship tournament.
   His high school coach thinks the adjustment to college is something that Cole can easily adapt to.
   "He can play the two or three in college," remarked Ensor. "He has some hop and can flat out get it with the best of them. He did some stuff in the sub-state game that blew me away, stuff that I had never seen.
   "Tusculum saw the same thing. He's not yet met his potential. He's athletic when he knows the ball is coming. He's capable of the 30-point games, too."
   Cole remembers the road to Murfreesboro fondly, especially the aforementioned game.
   "It was the most fun game I ever played in," said Cole referring to the Rangers' sub-state championship. "Everyone on the team played real well. One of our goals before the season was to play in the state tournament and everybody wanted it real bad."
   While his amazing leaping ability first draws attention to Cole, it is his mental toughness that should make Tusculum coach Griff Mills glad to have the Carter Countian on the roster.
   "I think they will enjoy having Ben Cole in their program," said Ensor. "He's a winner, he's got a 'W' on his chest. A lot of the stuff he does is unorthodox. He sacrifices his body for the team. He's the one who's going to take the hard charge.
   "He defends the biggest player. He always defended the best player on each opposing team. He held Vanderbilt signee (David) Terrell to 12 points. Ben's that kind of player. He plays just as tough on the practice floor, as he did on Tuesdays and Fridays. Academically, Ben is very, very strong."
   At Tusculum, Cole has hopes of earning a degree in secondary education. He even mentioned possibly returning to his old high school one day to teach and coach. In that scenario, Ensor says Cole would be welcomed back with open arms.
   "I would love to get Ben to do what I did with Ronnie Snavely," said Ensor. "To come back and work in the program with me. Unaka basketball has been run like a family business.
   "I would like to see Ben and Aaron contribute to this community again. Those two have bled Maroon. They really love this community and Unaka High School. That's what makes them so special. Both are talented enough and smart enough to succeed in basketball, academically and in their careers."
   With Ben Cole, he hopes the next four years in Greene County will be as good as the last four on Stoney Creek.
   "Playing for Unaka was one of the best things I ever did," stated Cole. "Coach Ensor was one of the best coaches I ever had. He showed us how to work hard for our goals. He made a lot of good decisions at game time.
   "I really enjoyed it, but I'm ready to start something new. I'm going to work real hard to get playing time and contribute to the team. I want to work hard on my studies too and just want to enjoy being there."