When you think of the emotional leader of a sports team, you might picture someone who gives impassioned speeches in the locker room or stands front and center on team posters with a defiant look in his eyes.
Instead, N.C. Central University basketball has Patrick Cole.
Cole considers himself to be a leader as a senior member of the team who is comfortable with Head Coach LeVelle Moton’s methods.
“We have a lot of new guys [in] their first year playing for Coach Moton,” Cole said. “I’m looked up to by them as a leader in regards as to what to look for, what to do, what not to do—things of that nature.”
NCCU is the third school where Cole’s played college ball, but it’s not even the first in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
As a freshman, Cole played for fellow MEAC school Coppin State University in Baltimore. He transferred to Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., sat out a year because of NCAA transfer rules, and played fulltime in the 2014–15 season.
“Coppin was a commuter school with only about 3,000 students,” Cole replied when asked what made NCCU different from the other schools he attended prior to becoming an Eagle in 2015. “Siena was a small private school with a rich basketball history, but it’s not the same going to school in the North rather than in the South. There’s a different, better culture down here.”
He admitted that sometimes he thought about quitting, but said, “You have to understand who you’re doing it for.”
Patrick is doing it for his mother, Denise, with whom he lives in his hometown of Newark, N.J.
“If you’re an only child like I am, then you have to think about who’s going to take care of you both,” he said. “If I don’t, then who will?”
Cole said he had a great relationship with his father, who died two years ago.
“My father was like my best friend,” Cole said. “He wasn’t really like that stern, Americanized father that you would think of. He talked to me about anything and everything.
“At the end of the day, he was still my father, but it felt like I lost my best friend. It still hurts to this day. His birthday actually passed recently—Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year, Jan. 16—that day was pretty emotional for me.”
Cole said losing his father, who was also named Patrick, “made me realize firsthand that life is short” and humbled him.
“You can’t take life for granted,” Cole said.
Cole said that he sees himself more as the team’s emotional leader, and that fellow guard and redshirt senior Dajuan Graf is the leader on the court more often than not because he has the ball in his hands.
“He’s the point guard, which is kind of like the quarterback,” Cole explained, “so when you’re a point guard, you have to be a leader. If you can’t lead in that position, you can’t play basketball.”
Graf isn’t the only teammate Cole has praised recently.
Cole hit a career-high eight three-pointers and scored a game-high 27 points to help the Eagles beat visiting N.C. A&T 82–59 on January 28. Cole told reporters after the game his achievement that night was a result of teammate John Guerra staying after practice the day before, rebounding for him as Cole worked on his shooting.
Teammate Del’Vin Dickerson, a recent transfer from Bowling Green, agreed that Cole leads the team emotionally.
“If someone’s not doing their job, he’s going to get on you about it and correct you,” Dickerson said. “He’s our emotional leader for sure.”
Dickerson added that he and Cole share a “weird connection” even though this is their first year playing together.
“If I’m running the court and I’m wide open,” Dickerson said, “I know I’m going to get the ball from him if he’s got the ball in his hands.
“I love Pat as a teammate, and I love him as a brother. Off the court, we do everything together.”
As for what Cole is doing next, Dickerson sounded confident that his teammate will achieve his goal of playing professionally.
“Seeing his progression, he’ll definitely be offered a contract to play overseas,” Dickerson said.
The man himself doesn’t seem quite as sure.
“Great question,” Cole said. “The season’s still going on. What comes next is predicated on how we finish. I’ve had interests here and there, but I’m focused on winning right now, and that’s all there is.”