ASHEVILLE Jake Cohen has been the reliable engine of Davidson basketball for so long now cranking up each day with such take-it-for-granted regularity that its a little startling to look back at the career he has already had.
As Davidson (24-7) tries to earn its second straight NCAA tournament berth the Wildcats play Appalachian State in a Southern Conference semifinal Sunday at 6 p.m. Cohen will once again serve as the hub of a confident team that has won 15 straight games.
In his quiet way, Cohen has become one of Davidsons all-time greats a player who legitimately could make a case (not that he would) to have his No. 15 jersey retired at the school.
Cohens final month of college basketball has begun, and theres no way to know when its going to end. I dont think you can really ignore that this is my last go-round, he said Saturday. As I move forward, I just want to make sure I cherish every moment and that Im leaving it all out there. I dont want to have any regrets.
The 6-foot-10 senior forward became the two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year this past week. Cohen now ranks in the top 10 all-time of numerous categories at Davidson: first in blocked shots, first in games started, sixth in scoring, ninth in rebounding and ninth in free-throw percentage. You may also remember that in Davidsons 2012 NCAA appearance he put up 24 points and 10 rebounds in a seven-point loss to Louisville.
None of those stats even hint at what Davidson coach Bob McKillop likes to say is one of the best things about Cohen: I think hes the best passing big man in the country.
Cohen began his career at Davidson the season after Stephen Curry left. He will never be Curry, Davidsons all-time leading scorer, whose dazzling 3-pointers attracted national attention. Cohen has a far more low-profile game, scoring most of his team-leading 14.9 points per game inside. But he is also shooting 39 percent on 3-pointers this season.
Said Georgia Southern coach Charlton Young on Saturday after Davidson had blitzed his team 86-59 in a tournament quarterfinal of Cohen: Hes the only guy in that league who has both that size and that versatility. Youre talking about a guy who is 6-foot-13. He stood next to me and I said, Boy, he is tall. And he shoots so well from 3. And now he has gotten better where he can face you and put the ball on the floor. Last year he couldnt really do that. Give him credit hes gotten better every year.
Getting better every day is a theme of McKillops. Toward the end of Saturdays lopsided victory, he found a penny and gave it to Cohen, who solemnly passed it down to the end of the bench. Explained Cohen later: Each day after practice, if coach felt like we got better, we each get a penny and we put that penny in a jar. The jar signifies how were getting better each day, one penny at a time. Coach gave me the penny and told me to pass it down because we got a little bit better today.
The distant future for Cohen is unclear. He would like to play pro basketball, either in the NBA or overseas. He also said he is on track to graduate in May with a degree in economics.
In the immediate future, Cohen has to deal with a split lip suffered a week ago that required stitches. He got hit in the same place on Saturday. Cohen only played 27 minutes against Georgia Southern and held an ice bag to his upper lip for the final 10 minutes of the rout, but he could have played more if required. And he has no intention of his senior season ending anytime soon.
Weve known all year were a very good team, Cohen said, and were playing our best basketball in March. If we continue to play together, were going to be very tough to beat.