FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas – Two wins separate Cole Cougar Basketball from a state championship. Back at the state tournament for the sixth time in school history, the Cougars look to bring a basketball title to Fort Sam Houston for the first time since an NBA Hall of Famer by the name of Shaquille O'Neal did it in 1989.
"I just want a portrait of our team next to that 1989 team," said freshman center Vincent Iwuchukwu. "I just want to be known as a state champion."
While constant reminders exist of Shaq and the 1989 team's success, it's not whats motivating the Cougars. Barely missing a chance at the state tournament last season has fueled their fire.
"We should have been there last year but things just didn't go our way. It was frustrating," said senior guard Jalen Barner.
Cole fell to Santa Rosa in the regional final. It's a loss Cougar head coach Noe Cantu still hasn't forgotten about.
"Losing that game last year, it just sticks with you," Cantu said. "That was the cry since we started the season. I literally told them after we lost that game last year that we're going to be right back this year. Now we just need to finish the job."
The Cougars hope the formula that got them to state will work against the state's best. Four Cougars average in double figures including Iwuchukwu, whose 6 foot, 10 inch frame has drawn comparisons to O'Neal.
"We just stick together," Iwuchukwu said. Most of our shots come off of assists and that alone just shows our chemistry and ability to work together really well. It's not about stats, it just about winning."
It all starts Thursday at the Alamodome when the Cougars (34-5) face Dallas Lincoln (20-16) at 3 p.m. Cantu just wants his team to enjoy the moment.
"I think sometimes you go into a state tournament and you're worried about who you're playing against or what their record is. If we just focus on ourselves and do what we've been doing, we'll be fine," Cantu said.