This week, the Talon staff sat down with Oklahoma Christian University’s men’s head basketball coach Cory Cole to discuss this year’s team and their upcoming season.
Q. What influenced you to leave Grand Canyon University as it was transitioning into an NCAA Division I to come coach at Oklahoma Christian?
“Simply, the cliché ‘OC is home’ and getting the chance to come back and replace Coach Hays—dream come true. Easy decision. Tough, but easy.”
Q. How did it feel to succeed your former coach, Dan Hays?
“I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about that, because he’s still around. There’s so much Coach Hays still does on the day-to-day and behind the scenes, so it’s kind of like working in tandem.”
Q. What will it take for this year’s squad to return to the conference championship game?
“A little bit of luck. Because we got lucky, we got hot, which is what you want to do and that’s what we built for—trying to get hot at the end of the season. So, now we have an understanding and a lot of experience return. So, that expectation is the guys are excited about the season and we didn’t have that the last two years.”
Q. What core values do you try to promote within your basketball program?
“We have so many, but passion, communication, family—which for us, family just means, ‘Forget about me, I love you,’ and that’s funny when you’re talking to guys and guys are saying ‘I love you’ and it’s in the heat of the moment. But you have those guys remember it’s not about you on that team, on that shot, in that study hall—family is really taught. Trying to teach these guys to care about their teammates.”
Q. How has OC changed since you were last here?
“That’s the best question. Back in the 90s, it was very conservative, kind of stuffy. New ideas really weren’t welcomed or talked about. I hadn’t been back when I left for Phoenix, except for to the gym. I’d come back and go see Coach Hays and my professors. I just assumed OC was still the same. When I came up to interview and getting to meet the new leadership, and to my wife I’m going, ‘This has kind of changed.’ The leadership division is a lot more open, a lot more inclusive, a lot more family—like real family and not just on the surface. So, for me, that felt like a home to now bring my family here. Leaving a great institution at Grand Canyon, a great Christian university, I knew my kids would be entrenched here and I wanted that if it was open like we were living in Phoenix.”
Q. Now being a coach, what do you wish you could go back and tell yourself when you were a collegiate player?
“I had a really special career. I was fortunate, I was lucky—I never had a bad coach in high school, in college or when I went pro. I did make a lot of mistakes, but I was never hurt. So, for me, my career was almost like a storybook. One of the things I would really tell myself is to cherish the day—just really enjoy it. I stressed a lot because I wanted to be perfect and that can kind of mask a lot of the enjoyment when you look back on it in hindsight, and you may have a good career but you didn’t really love it. So, I tell the guys now to ‘just love it, man. Love it when you suck, love it when you’re good. Dig in, because when you’re 30 and your knees don’t bend and you can’t jump, you’ll look back on those days. It’s not the games, not the plays—it’s those days and those memories.’”
Q. With Elijah Strickland gone, is there anyone else on the team you see with the ability to become a number-one offensive option?
“We better have a couple because we had John Moon two years ago, Elijah Strickland last year —we need someone to take that next step this season. It could be Jordan Box and it could be Rod Smith if he stays out of foul trouble. It could be Will Lienhard and it could even be some of the new guys. This year, we have a lot more options that are truly talented—we have a lot of talent, a lot of toughness, a lot of heart. We can have a team made up of ‘Elijah Strickland’s’ and that is very exciting, and I think we can surprise some people. But every coach says that ‘I want to see what my toys can do.’”
Q. What are your goals for this basketball season?
“Conference championship, absolutely. But it is important for us to get off to a good start. Last year, we were 0-4 to start the season and then we upset the No. 11-ranked team over Thanksgiving Break with nobody in the stands. We had just lost so much and then we had our best game on the brightest stage with no one there, and that just reminds me I have to have my guys ready to play every day. But, I think this team definitely has the potential to win a conference championship.”