Before every home game, St. John Neumann, coaches and players say a prayer. So maybe it was Divine Intervention that brought Neumann Jordan Cole.
Maybe it was luck too. Whatever it was, a fortuitous event took place a few springs ago. That day some Neumann basketball players were competing in a local gym. Sitting in the bleachers was Cole. At the time, he was a Williamsport student but was contemplating transferring to Neumann in the fall.
Minutes later the Neumann players asked him down and Cole played with them. He felt at home and has not left that team since. Cole began his Neumann basketball career last year and has made a huge impact. Last Saturday, he delivered what could go down as a legendary performance as the years pass.
Cole scored 17 points, 15 in the second half, made a series of big shots and hit the game-clinching free throws as Neumann edged Sullivan County, 37-32 and captured its first District 4 Class A championship since 2000. Had it not been for that encounter a few years ago, the coronation might have never happened.
"They needed players so I came down and played with them and I liked the chemistry of the team and the way we played together," Cole said. "I was already talking about coming to Neumann and it was just perfect. They needed players and it was a perfect fit."
His teammates, coaches and fans agree. Cole has been an all-around threat since joining Neumann, helping it win 41 games, a league championship and a district title. The senior guard will try and help Neumann (23-2) extend its season Friday when it plays Harrisburg Christian in its state tournament opener.
A year ago, Neumann won its first state playoff game since 2002 as Cole helped it make a 16-win improvement. He averaged in double figures, ran the offense as a point guard even though he was playing out of position and was one of the team's top defenders.
Cole has been even better this season. He is playing shooting guard again since Richard Allen has performed so well at point guard and has displayed great touch while also attacking the basket and continuing his stellar defense.
"It's incredible the way things worked out. Jordan's turned around his life completely," Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said. "Not that he was a bad kid, but he's gotten some well-deserved publicity and he's academically doing some good things. He's just a real good kid."
He is a real good player, too. All year, Cole has displayed a knack for playing his best in big moments. The Knights have won a lot of close games and in many Cole has hit big shots or made key plays at critical times, especially in the second half. He did it again in the district semifinals, hitting some big 3-pointers in the second half as Neumann overcame a third-quarter deficit and beat state qualifier Muncy, 67-54.
Saturday, Neumann was in serious trouble, trailing defending champion Sullivan, 23-13 midway through the third quarter. The Knights had waited since dropping a heart-breaking final to Sullivan last year for this opportunity but it appeared to be slipping away. Instead, Cole heated up and hit two straight 3-pointers that changed the game's complexion.
"It felt like the turning point. It felt like things were turning around," Allen said. "As soon as he hit a couple, stuff started flowing and we hit shots and went on a run and we just increased the intensity."
Sullivan still led in the fourth quarter, but Cole scored nine points in the final eight minutes. He opened the fourth by draining a 3-pointer despite Kelby Mullen defending him as well as possible. He then converted a difficult spin move 3-point play that made it 34-29 and hit the game-clinching free throws with three seconds remaining.
He has delivered big performances and had bigger statistical games but considering what was at stake, this was Cole's masterpiece.
"He was just amazing. He put us back in the game," Neumann forward Ryan Reid said. "He's been doing it all year. I didn't expect anything less."
A nice guy off the court and a cool customer on it, Cole has a huge competitive fire that could not be stifled Saturday. That was true even after landing hard while finishing that 3-point play. Cole was quick to get back on his feet and was holding his arm in apparent pain, but he never came out. To know Cole is to understand how hard he plays, how much he is willing to endure.
"The trainer said he looked like he got hurt and fell on his arm. I said that kid wouldn't take himself out if he broke his arm in three places," Petcavage said. "He'd still be in there fighting."
Cole arrived just in time. Label him a player, a fighter or a true success story. Above all else, he is now a champion.