FOREST PARK, Ga. — Forest Park High School girls basketball is proof that state championships alone are not the only things that define a successful program. Lady Panthers coach Steven Cole is entering his seventh year in charge of the program, and in the previous six seasons, his squads have been a picture of consistency, to the tune of five Final Four appearances and a state championship game appearance in those six campaigns — the one year they didn’t make it to the semis was in 2012 when Forest Park’s season ended in the Elite Eight.
Thecrescentbuzz.com editor Gabriel Stovall recently chatted with Cole after a summer league game at the Forest Park rec center against a squad featuring Luella players such as Lady Lions star Sada Jacobs. Cole explains why he doesn’t expect a drop off from the past six seasons, despite fielding a team with just two seniors and no juniors.
STOVALL: So have you gotten over last season’s heartbreak in the Class AAAAA Final Four?
COLE: “Oh yeah, definitely. “When you’ve been doing this as long as I have, you just go in re-asses what happened in that last game, re-asses what happened really in the whole year and you just get better and get ready for next year. Every year is a new team, and I believe I’ve said that before. You’ve got to make the team up of what you’ve got. You can’t keep doing same thing. Whatever parts you have, that’s the team you have to create. So that’s why we’re out here this summer to find out what type of team we are.”
STOVALL: What has the summer schedule looked like so far for you guys?
COLE: “Well, of course we always wind up down here in (the) Forest Park (rec center). We are Forest Park High School, so we’re always going to come down here Forest Park community. We always come over here and play in support of our community. As for the way they’re playing, I’m really happy. We’ve had a really good summer so far. We’ve won the games we’re supposed to win, and we’ve fought in the games we’re supposed to fight in. We’re a really, really young team. We’ve got just two returning seniors in Alexis High and Tamecia Blue, and no juniors. The rest are just sophomores and freshman.”
STOVALL: So with that said — and I know coaches don’t like to use this term — but dare I say Forest Park is in a rebuilding year?
COLE: “Oh no. No. No. No. We’ve got a tradition here at Forest Park. There’s a legacy at Forest Park, and I expect us to pick up where we left off every year. That’s why I’m so proud about this summer. Our girls are already playing with a hunger that they don’t wanna lose. They’re already playing for something, and not just a win, but the legacy that Forest Park High School girls basketball has.”
STOVALL: Coach, how long does it take for the youngsters and incoming players to grasp the magnitude of that Forest Park tradition?
COLE: “As far as understanding the tradition and the Forest Park way, it’s the returning players who set that understanding. It’s not necessarily the coaches. When a new player or a freshman player comes into that weight room or comes into a workout, it’s up to those returning players to make them see this is for real. It’s the returning players who come in and say that we need to go to work.”
STOVALL: With so many young players in the program now, who are some names we need to be watching for when the fall comes?
COLE: “Definitely Kaliah Smith. She played some last year. But then we’ve got a freshman coming in named Sarah Matthews from Babb (Middle School), and she’s probably going to start as a freshman for us. Those two and a couple from Forest Park Middle will contribute.
STOVALL: Is it too soon to get a handle on what these girls will be able to do best and how they may differ even from last year’s teams or teams in times past?
COLE: “We already see that we’re not as offensive minded as in years past. This team already set the pace that it’s going to be a defensive team, and like I’ve said, you know, that’s really the Forest Park way. It’s the legacy we pass on. And the underlying deal is we’re never gonna quit. We don’t look at the score. All we do is listen for the last horn. That’s when we stop playing. I don’t believe we’re in rebuilding year. You’re either with us or against us. Let’s just get ready to play.”
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