A year ago, one of the biggest surprises of the high school basketball season was James Island’s run to the Class AAAA Lower State title game.

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Despite the loss of key seniors from that team, the Trojans are geared to make another run at the championship. James Island heads into Friday’s game against Stratford at 11-3 overall and 3-0 in Region 7-AAAA.

Among a handful of returners from last year’s team is junior shooting guard Vince Cole — a 6-5 sharpshooter who is one of the top scorers in the Lowcountry with 20.5 points per game.

Cole joins fellow juniors Jordan McDaniel (point guard) and Maurice Hardiman (post) as returning starters from last year’s team. Cole says the focus since losing to Sumter in the Lower State finals has been getting another shot.

“Last year gave us the confidence to know that we are capable of doing big things if we work hard and play together,” Cole said. “We’re working together and every day we motivate each other to get better. We’re a family, win or lose, and I think we all have confidence in each other.”

Cole spent his freshman season at Garrett Tech, leading the Falcons in scoring at 16.3 points per game. He decided to move from Class AA to the AAAA ranks, knowing the increased level of competition would help him improve as a college prospect.

Currently, Cole has an official offer from South Carolina State and continues to receive interest from other schools, such as Charleston Southern, College of Charleston, Coastal Carolina, Tennessee Tech and Wake Forest. Now in his second season at James Island, Cole feels he made the right decision.

“There’s just more competition in Class AAAA and the teams we play night in and night out are very challenging and that makes me a better player,” Cole said. “It’s still basketball, no matter where you play, but the competition and the coaching is a different level. I know coming here was the right thing to do.”

Despite receiving pretty heavy recruiting interest so far, Cole is continuing to work on elements of his game that he feels needs to improve. Like most high school players who excel offensively, Cole admits he needs to work on defense.

“On the ball and help side, I need to get better in all aspects as a defender,” said Cole, who averaged 14.5 points per game last season. “I have to do my part on both ends of the floor. I realize that my team needs me to play defense as well as score. I know I have plenty of things to work on.”

James Island coach Stan Wilkins says Cole has the mindset and confidence that all good scorers possess, but agrees with Cole’s own assessment.

“It’s not just Vince, as a team we are still working things out and creating a chemistry on the defensive end of the floor,” Wilkins said. “Vince’s strength is as a scorer. We all know that. But we stress every day that he has to play both ends if we’re going to be able to challenge again for the state championship. He’s working hard. They all are trying to figure it out, and we are improving every day.

“Vince will work. He will do what it takes to become a better player. He is still growing as a player and he’s starting to understand what we need of him in order for him to be the best he can be, and for this team to be the best we can be. He doesn’t have to do it all, just be part of the total team effort. He’s doing that, and as a whole our team is coming together.”