Cory Cole completed his first year as head coach for the Oklahoma Christian University men’s basketball team with a final game against Dallas Baptist University Saturday. The Eagles finished the season 8-18 and ninth in the Heartland Conference standings.
Cole played basketball for the Eagles from 1990 to 1994. He was named the 1994 Sooner Athletic Conference Player of the Year and placed on the first-team All-America list after helping lead the Eagles to their first NAIA national tournament appearance since the early 1980s. He finished his colligate career with 1,916 points and remains fourth on the Oklahoma Christian career list. Cole also grabbed 1,322 career rebounds during his time with the Eagles, a statistic of which no other Oklahoma Christian player has come within 200 rebounds.
After playing professionally for the Thames Valley Tigers in England during 1995-96, he joined the Oklahoma Christian coaching staff as an assistant under head coach Dan Hays for the 1996-97 season, before spending the next 10 years assisting women’s basketball coach Stephanie Findley and the Lady Eagles program.
Cole accepted a role as an assistant at Grand Canyon University in 2009, serving as the recruiting and defensive coordinator before becoming Oklahoma Christian’s eighth men’s basketball head coach on April 6, 2016.
Statistics provided by the Oklahoma Christian University Sports Information Office.
Q: How do you feel about your first year of head coaching at Oklahoma Christian?
A: Overall, it has been incredible. All the foundation pieces have been put in for my family, for the program and for the future, so it has been an A-plus.
Q: How has it felt to be the head coach at the same school where you previously played?
A: Emotional. There is just so much love I have for this university and its kids. Coaching men again and building those relationships, it has just been overwhelming, but in a great way.
Q: Coming in, what were some of your main goals for the season?
A: Culture building, absolutely. Getting that started in year one and also getting to know my guys and being relationship based. It was just making sure these guys know who I am and what I am about, while establishing our program identity for the future of being one of the top programs in the country.
Q: Following Coach Hays, who coached the Eagles for so long, how did you work to put your own stamp on the program?
A: It is a daily process because Coach Hays has been here for so long. He has touched every single thing at least a thousand times, so it was just a lot of going back and making sure everything is the way I want it to be done. I have to be patient. There are things I thought about and there are things I still have not thought about that I still need to do so it is really just about being patient and making sure that the first time I do something, I do it my way. That is patience, that is planning. So, it has been a learning curve there.
Q: With losing four seniors, how are you looking to rebuild for next season?
A: It is not just four seniors, but it is about who we are losing. Each one is a little bit different in terms of what they bring to the program, so it is trying to replace a John Moon or a Luis Lopez, a Zach Norris, who is graduating early, a Keilan Horton— it is all of those things. In recruiting, I have to get guys who have a passion for the game, who are true winners and who will come in year one and help us get to that next level. It is the progression of getting the right kids who are ready for that level, because the seniors did an outstanding job of putting us on the map. We competed this year like we had not in previous seasons, with pretty much the same team, but the guys really came together and set the foundation. So, getting the guys to that next level, we have to have that for next season.
Q: At one point in the season, every guy on the team had to carry a basketball wherever they went. Can you explain what that was about?
A: It was about comradery, just so they would each be identified as a men’s basketball player. We really struggled with sharing the basketball with each other and with our assist-to-turnover ratio, we wanted to make sure that were valuing the ball. As coaches, we could come by and steal the ball and if we managed to take the basketball, they had to run. So, they learned to really value the ball. We did not get any steals as a staff so that was good that they took care of the ball. Hopefully in practice and games, then, they would learn that same lesson.
Q: What would you like to see from Oklahoma Christian basketball in the future?
A: I could go for an hour on this. We want to continue to build upon the family pieces. At OC, we are a program of men and that is something that is just so important. It is not so much just on the court with wins and losses, but we are here to get these men ready for life and basketball is that mission work. Of course, we want to be successful in games, but if you are raising great men, you will be successful both on and off the court. We want to continue to nurture and grow great, young men of Christ.
Q: How would you summarize your first season here?
A: The first year has been a lot of culture building and getting things the way I want them. These guys are great guys. I love them to death. They are hardworking, they love each other and we are getting better. It has not translated over as much in the wins and losses, even though we had a pretty good season. I want our guys to learn to finish. Whatever we start, whether it is in the classroom, whether it is in chapel, whether it is being a good brother, a good friend, a good boyfriend, I want them to learn how to finish and finish the right way. If we are doing that in all of the other areas, we are going to start to win, because that is what you are doing in life. You are winning.