By Geoff Langham
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Oklahoma’s C.J. Cole is more than just a college basketball player. As the saying goes, “Student comes first,” and for Cole, that is an understatement. He is the owner of a perfect 4.0 GPA as a chemical biosciences major with aspirations of becoming a medical doctor.
How does Cole handle being a pre-med student and a college basketball player at a major university? He said the answer is simple.
“I just have to manage my time,” said Cole, a redshirt-freshman forward from the small town of Sperry, Okla., on the northern outskirts of Tulsa. “Just like anybody else, I have to decide what I want to spend my time doing, whether it’s hanging out with friends, studying, or watching TV.”
Cole credits his high school chemistry, anatomy and physiology teachers for getting him interested in science and a career in medicine.
“They introduced me to the subject and I realized I was good at it, and that helps,” Cole said. “Through high school, it dawned on me that maybe I want to go pre-med and I just really love it.”
Even though Cole wants to go to medical school, he hasn’t quite decided what specialization he wants to pursue. Many students do not decide until later in their studies.
“I don’t really want to be in a lab,” Cole explained. “I want to be interacting with patients, so that’s how it’s narrowed down, which isn’t much because there are many specializations. I haven’t really decided.”
In addition to staying busy with his demanding basketball and pre-med requirements, Cole is a member of OU’s President’s Leadership Class scholarship program and also took advantage of a unique educational opportunity last summer. Cole spent several weeks in Italy in one of OU’s many study abroad programs. His group started at OU’s campus in Arezzo and after a couple weeks there proceeded to Rome.
“I took a couple of semesters of Italian beforehand to try and learn the language but it was nowhere near the experience that I needed to communicate with people there,” Cole said. “It was a cool experience just to see the different cultures and how life is in Europe.”
He said the experience was eye-opening.
“It’s completely different than how it is here,” Cole said. “It’s not nearly as fast, like the fast-food, I-need-it-now culture that we have here. It’s completely different over there.”
Aside from being a model student, Cole also makes his presence felt on the basketball court. Joining the OU team as a freshman prior to the 2012-13 season, Cole walked on and redshirted his first year. Prior to this season he was awarded a scholarship.
“It was nice,” Cole said. “Coming from a small town, a lot of people didn’t think I would be able to get a scholarship from a Division I school like this. It was just a great opportunity for me.”
Cole said he also believes that playing basketball in college helps him prepare even more for life after college. One example he provided is having to complete all of his schoolwork even when he is tired from rigorous basketball practices.
“It has kind of prepared me in that way, knowing that I have to focus,” Cole said. “If I have to study for this test and spend two or three hours at night doing it, I’ll do it no matter how tired I am.”
Along with being a force in the classroom, Cole is an integral part of the Sooner squad. At 6-6, he is undersized in the post, but makes up for it with his strength and intensity.
“He is one of the strongest guys on the team,” said senior forward Tyler Neal. “Even though he is not very tall, he can really help the red (first) team and the other post guys when we’re in there to kind of provide some resistance.”
Cole has made great strides on the court this year after making the jump from a high school to a major university last season.
“Overall, he’s more comfortable with the ball, more comfortable defensively, and he’s rebounding the ball aggressively,” said third-year OU head coach Lon Kruger, who offered Cole his athletic scholarship. “He’s not getting many minutes in games but he’s working and making progress in practice every day.”
Even though Cole may not be seeing a lot of playing time at this point of his career, if he keeps working the way he does in all other facets of his life, those minutes will be here before he knows it.
“If he keeps working hard, at some point he is going to get those minutes and play those minutes well,” Kruger said.
That wouldn’t be surprising, considering that whatever endeavor Cole pursues he seems to experience major success.