Monday is a very big day in the life of Elliott Cole.
"Five or six Division I coaches said they want to see him play against Orr," said Jermaine Johnson, Cole's coach at Henry Ford Academy's Power House High School. "They are waiting to see what he does in the Red-West, how he plays against good competition."
Cole, a 5-foot-10 senior point guard at the tiny charter school in the North Lawndale neighborhood on Chicago's West Side, is the third leading scorer in the nation and the No. 1 scorer in Illinois. In 18 games, he has scored 675 points, an average of 37.5 per game.
Only one player in state history has recorded a higher average. In 1977-78, Metro's Mitchell Anderson averaged 43.5 in 22 games.
Power House, which opened in 2008, is a Class 2A school. For some unexplained reason, it is a member of the Public League's powerful Red-West Division. That means Cole's team is matched against Whitney Young, Marshall, Crane, Orr and Farragut.
The competition hasn't bothered Cole. He scored 24 points against Whitney Young, a season low. He scored 47 against Farragut and impressed coach William Nelson so much that he nominated him for the McDonald's All-America team. He scored a season-high of 64 against Little Village.
But he knows that Monday's game at Orr is something special and he is eager to accept the challenge. All he has ever wanted, since he enrolled at St. Joseph of Westchester as a freshman, was a chance to prove how good he is.
Is a kid who is averaging 37.5 points per game the real deal?
"It is very important for me to play well, to be myself," Cole said. "I don't want to do anything that I wouldn't do normally. It isn't me to show off. It's not about what I have done lately. I don't want to think about putting up a lot of points. If I score 10 points and we win or if I score 30 and we win, as long as we win, that's what matters.
"But I want to play my game...show I can lead a team, be a true point guard, not just be a shooter. I like to pass and get in the lane and create shots for my teammates. I also can attack the basket and play defense. I want to show that I'm not reckless or out of control, that I play smart. I'm an all-around player, not just a shooter."
Cole plays with a chip on both shoulders. He wishes he was 6-foot-3 but he isn't. "I have to prove somebody wrong every time I go on the floor, someone who hasn't seen me before. I'm 5-foot-10. That's the hand I was dealt. But I can still be effective like a 6-foot-3 player with my body frame," he said.
"He reminds me of (former Crane and Kansas star) Sherron Collins and Ahmad Starks (former Whitney Young star now at Oregon State)," Johnson said. "On the court, he is the most humble, well-rounded and respectful kid you would care to meet. Through it all, he doesn't brag about it. He has his own little swagger. He'll do anything he has to do to win. He is one of the best shooting guards we've ever had in this city."
Cole lives in Oak Park. He enrolled at St. Joseph of Westchester as a freshman because he wanted to play for legendary coach Gene Pingatore and one of the most high profile programs in the country. But he never got a chance. As a junior, he sat on the end of the bench and never saw the playing floor. He was told he didn't fit into the system.
So he opted to transfer to Power House. One of Johnson's friends tipped him off about Cole, who had been working out at his training camp in the suburbs. Johnson, 30, a graduate of Collins in 2001, runs a similar camp, Skills Athletics, in the city. With only one year of eligibility remaining for their son, Cole's parents thought Power House represented a good opportunity for him to experience instant success and gain exposure to college coaches.
Cole has a scholarship offer from Chicago State and interest from more than 30 mid-major schools, including Northern Illinois, Illinois State and Illinois-Chicago. He also has interest from Kansas State, Purdue and Wyoming.
"I would like to play at a high Division I level but I want to play at a school that fits me, not a situation like St. Joseph where I didn't get a chance," he said. "I want to make the right decision, mid-major or high-major. I like an up-tempo style. That's where I'm more effective because of my speed.
"I have their attention. I have an opportunity. The eyes are on my team. I have a chance to prove what I can do. I feel I have to perform at a certain level every night. I want people to say that he is the player they hoped he would be, not that he is overrated.
"It's an advantage to play in the Red-West. The great competition brings out the best in great players. It brings out a different level of intensity. It makes players step up their games. You can tell a good player from a great player. You can tell who really wants it."
Playing at Power House, which is located in an old Sears, Roebuck & Co. power plant, isn't without its disadvantages, however. The school plays its home games across the street at Homan Square Park. The players don't get a lot of practice time, usually once a week at a church around the corner from the school at Homan and Arlington.
It doesn't distract Cole. He is always at the school gym or at the LA Fitness facility with his brother Felton and personal trainer Justin Brim. In the summer, he took 1,000 shots a day. During the school year, he is limited to 500 a day. He is ambidextrous and shoots 30-footers with both hands. He is a 70-percent shooter from three-point range. When he scored 64 against Little Village, he converted 8-of-11 three-point attempts.
But Monday is his biggest challenge to date. He knows he will be under a microscope with college coaches evaluating every move and every shot. Orr, led by Tyquone Greer, is one of the best teams in the state.
Oh, there will be other challenges to come, like games against Collins on Wednesday and North Lawndale on Friday. On Jan. 25, Power House will play Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kansas. Sunrise is ranked No. 8 in the nation.
But Monday is Orr and that's Cole's focus. He hopes to fare better than he did last Wednesday when Power House lost to Westinghouse 69-68 in overtime. He was limited to 24 points and missed a shot from the free throw line at the buzzer that would have won the game.
"It's a big game. It would be a big win for us. But I can't get into the hype," he said. "Sure, it's very important to play well. I know coaches will be watching. I just want to play hard, play my game and do what it takes to get a win."
And he wants to prove something to Anthony Manuel, the dean of students at Power House and a former All-State guard at Crane in 1985.
"He gives it to me every day," Cole said. "He says to me: 'Back in my day, I could beat you.' But he also reminds me to stay humble."
And to keep playing with that chip on his shoulder.