RJ Cole: MEAC Rookie of the Year Plans to Help Howard to Greater Heights

Photo courtesy of Johnnie Photography.

By David Cordova

For many years, historically black colleges & universities, most commonly referred to as HBCU’s, have had some great talent walk through their doors. In the MEAC, the teams are scrappy & competitive. A lot of the players at those schools could be playing at any other program around the country, but they choose those schools because they want to be a part of the black college experience, which bodes well for those schools.

One of the players that is making waves in the MEAC is none other than R.J. Cole. The 6-foot-1 guard from Howard University is one of the league’s top players and has been holding his own from his younger days to the present.

“Just coming out here and working, I’ve been playing basketball since I was three, so it’s the sport I love, so seeing myself happy and my family happy, and doing something I love is what motivates me.”

Cole hails from Linden, New Jersey, and holds Jersey basketball in high regard. “It’s really where the tough and gritty come from. Jersey needs basketball and basketball needs Jersey. Every guard here is different and we’ve all got our own style of play. So we come in here and we like to work and compete,” said Cole about the hoops scene in the Garden State.

RJ Cole-4
Cole is getting ready to make a move against his defender. (Photo courtesy of Howard University Athletics)

In high school, Cole played for the legendary St. Anthony High School program in Jersey City. In his three years on varsity for the Friars, Cole scored over 1,000 points and led the Friars to two sectional titles and a New Jersey Tournament of Champions state title as a junior, and an 81-8 record. Cole was also a part of the last team St. Anthony team to go undefeated in school history before the school closed in June 2017, due to financial reasons.

When asked about his time with the now-defunct, but legendary program, he replied, “If anything else, a great experience, it taught me how to win, and how to take losses and how to play against the best competition, which would help me move forward in college.”

As a high school senior, he scored 22.4 points per game for the Friars, which made him one of the premier guards in the state of New Jersey. But playing for a legendary Hall of Fame coach such as Bob Hurley, kept him grounded and humble.

When asked about his experience playing for Coach Hurley, he replied, “Coach Hurley is great. He talks to you [about] basketball, and most importantly, life, how to be a man, outside of the court.”

RJ Cole
Cole shines bright in the big games against marquee teams, like this one against Indiana. (Photo courtesy of Howard University Athletics)

On the closure of the school, Cole added: “It was really sad, St. Anthony’s is a legendary school, and to see the doors close [for good], to a school that you played three years at, and you can’t go there any more, is very upsetting.”

Cole was recruited by plenty of mid-major colleges in high school, but when all was said and done, he decided to commit to Howard in his senior year. “Howard, that’s what fit me, I was able to come in and start right away,  and put the ball in my hands, and make plays for myself and my teammates.”

As a freshman, Cole averaged 23.7 points and 6.2 assists per game for the Bisons, and led the MEAC with 105 three-pointers, and he had several big games this season, including a 42-point outburst in a win against UNC-Wilmington on December 22nd. He also had five games in which he scored more than 30 points. This outstanding performance earned him the MEAC Rookie of the Year Award, making it back-to-back years that a Bison player has won the award. The other one was rising junior guard Charles Williams.

When asked about his freshman season, Cole replied, “My freshman year was amazing, I won MEAC Rookie of the Year, I made it to the All-MEAC first team, I finished sixth in the country in scoring, and second [on the list of] freshmen, so it was a great year for me, so I’m looking forward to do it again in my second year.”

Cole goes to the hole. (Photo courtesy of Johnnie Photography)

Right now, Cole lists his strengths are that he can shoot the ball, get to the rim, finish at mid-range and the three, but he wants to improve on his defense and being able to stay on his defender for 40 minutes per game.

But due to his outstanding play last season, Cole is off to a good start. Last season, the Bisons finished 10-23. However, as things get better with the nucleus of players that they have, Howard can have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. But that will take time.

As for Cole, there’s one thing that’s keeping him focused. “Just getting better every day, and hopefully taking my talents to the next level.”

Highlights of R.J. Cole:

Courtesy of NJ Hoop Recruit.

Courtesy of NJ Hoop Recruit.

Courtesy of NJ Hoop Recruit.

Courtesy of Finest Magazine.

Courtesy of JG2Films.

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