- Tom Archdeacon columnist
Most D-I college suitors treated him like a wallflower at a junior high dance and he knows why.
“Sometimes guys don’t pass the eye test,” said Wright State point guard Cole Gentry.” I’m not 6-foot-3. I don’t have long arms. I don’t jump as high as some other guys.”
His dad, Alan, agreed:
“A lot of schools looked at him and saw a 5-foot-10 point guard and they were like, ‘Well, he can’t dunk. His athleticism might be a little lower.’ The eyes test is exactly what a lot of them do.”
It can make for a shortsighted view, both father and son agree.
“What people don’t see is how hard a guy is working in the gym,” Cole said. He said an “eye test” doesn’t always measure a player’s heart, his will.
But a couple of guys who saw him for what he really was were Wright State head coach Scott Nagy and associate head coach Brian Cooley, who was the point man on Gentry’s recruitment.
First they brought him from St. Charles East High School in Chicago’s western suburbs to South Dakota State University, where Nagy was in his 21st season as the head coach.
After that 2015-16 season – in which Gentry redshirted for the Jackrabbits – Nagy took the Wright State job and 10 games into that following season, Gentry decided to leave SDSU, too.
Once again Nagy was receptive and added him to the Raiders roster.
“The main reason he had been overlooked was his size,” Nagy said Monday. “But there are a lot of small guards. Cole was one of the top 20 players in Chicago and if you’re in the top 20 there, you’re a good basketball player. He put up those kinds of stats. He did everything. He scored. He was tremendous in the open court. He was a good defender. He was tough and scrappy.”
And Monday afternoon – playing in just his ninth game for the Raiders after sitting out the back end of last season and the beginning of this one to meet NCAA transfer rules – Gentry showed most of those traits as he helped lead Wright State to a come-from-behind victory over Youngstown State, 77-67, at the Nutter Center.
Although the Raiders didn’t play well in the first half, they managed to stay within a few points of the Penguins because of Gentry and freshman Jaylon Hall.
“The only thing that kept us in it in the first half were those two making threes,” Nagy said. “Other than that we weren’t very good.
Hall made three three-pointers in the first half.
Gentry made the first four three-pointers he tookand finished the game with 14 points, six assists, four rebounds and no turnovers in 36 minutes of play. Since he’s joined the team – the Raiders were 6-4 before he could suit up — WSU has won 8 of its last nine games and is 6-0 in Horizon League play.
‘I was pretty confident’
Alan Gentry is used to his son’s play. He’s seen him rise to the moment since he was a youngster:
“Since he was in second grade, the thing that surprised people was his ability to dribble with both hands. And he was as quick as almost anybody out there.”
Cole said he’s just following in the footsteps of his older sister, Kelsey, on that one:
“She was a sprinter at St. Louis University. She did the 100-meter dash so I guess the fast-twitch muscles run in the family.”
But the one place he was lacking was in his size.
“In the eighth grade he was just 5-foot-2,” Alan said. “He was really, really tiny compared to the other kids. But then he grew a little as a freshman and a lot more as a sophomore and started to play on varsity.”
He captained his high school team as a junior and senior, averaged 18.2 points and 4.7 assists a game as a senior, was the MVP of the Upstate East Conference and won second team all-state honors.
Although he was wooed by Division II Lewis University and Division III Augustana College, he said held on for a D-I offer:
“I decided to bet on myself. I thought I could play Division I…I knew I could. Some people might look at it that I rolled the dice, but I wouldn’t say that. I was pretty confident. I’ve always believed in myself. I just needed someone to give me a chance.”
His son’s determination didn’t surprise Alan either: “He’s always had a little chip on his shoulder because people told him he was too small.”
In the final month of his high school career, Cole got offers from Furman and Maryland-Baltimore County. He held on longer and a few days after his prep season ended, South Dakota State made the offer.
After redshirting that first year, he planned to stay at the school when Nagy and his staff left.
“But when they switched to a 1-3-1 zone, it just didn’t fit him,” Alan said. “Same with the offense they ran. Nagy and Cooley had liked him because the offense he ran in high school was similar to what they ran.
“We (Alan and wife Patricia) talked to him about looking at another opportunity and his high school coaches did, too. And then Wright State had an opening.”
It meant he’d have to sit out another season’s worth of games, but Cole said he tried to keep a positive outlook:
“It wasn’t like, ‘Oh no, you got to sit out all these games…again!’ I figured there’s two ways you can approach it. You can sit and watch or sit out and get better. I chose the second one and me and the assistant coaches did a good job of staying in the gym.
“What really inspired me was Grant (Benzinger) and the way he works really hard on his game. It makes everybody else work harder, too.”
Joining the team
When he was finally allowed to play, he wondered how he would be accepted by the other Raiders:
“I thought it might be a little weird,” he said. “It could have been ‘Look, we’ve got our team. We don’t need another guy.’ But they were really inclusive. They brought me in and now I love being around them. All the credit goes to them.”
Gentry has now played in nine games and started four.
The adjustment appears mostly seamless, although you couldn’t help but notice Justin Mitchell – who started at point guard last season and in the early games this year – sitting in the stands behind the bench Monday. It was his second straight game out of uniform.
He was suspended for one game earlier this season, in part because he had some trouble adjusting to his new role.
And now he’s said to be out for “personal reasons.”
He is a valuable component to this team – last season he was second in the league in rebounds, fifth in assists, eighth in field goal percentage and 21st in scoring – but even without him WSU showed itself to be a good team down the stretch against the Penguins.
With the Raiders trailing by three at the half, Gentry said the players talked amongst themselves before the coaches entered the dressing room:
“We knew we were getting out-toughed a little bit. They were rebounding and making threes in our face. We weren’t guarding hard enough. We knew what we had to do.”
And midway through the second half the Raiders made a string of defensive stops in a row and turned a six-point deficit into a 10-point lead.
Five players finished in double figures.
“The thing about us now is that we really believe we should win each game,” Gentry said. “We expect to make the plays. We know what we are capable of doing.”
He has brought that trait with him:
You bet on yourself.