Last summer was supposed to be a time of new beginnings for Federal Way High School center Malcolm Cola.
After missing most of his junior season, one that saw the Eagles boys basketball program win its second straight state championship, to a severe knee injury, Cola looked forward to using the summer to get back into basketball shape for his final season after undergoing months of rigorous rehabilitation.
During a summer league game, Cola went up for a routine rebound when he came down awkwardly and re-aggravated the injury. He made it back completely healthy for the start of the season, donning a light knee brace.
Cola didn’t shy away after the summer scare. Instead, he went on to help lead Federal Way back to the state tournament, leading the team in scoring and the 4A North Puget Sound League in blocked shots. For his efforts, Cola was named the 2017 Federal Way Mirror male Athlete of the Year on June 15.
“This means a lot to me,” Cola said. “I know the work I put in, and I’m really happy others have recognized it. You know, I’ve never scored 40 points in a game. Nothing outrageous like that, but that’s not the only thing about basketball.”
Coming into the 2015 season, Federal Way coach Jerome Collins confidently inserted his 6-foot-7-inch center into the Eagles’ starting five.
Few centers in the league could match Cola’s length, size and talent.
When Cola went down as the season began, the prognosis was that it could potentially be over.
The news devastated Cola. For Collins, it meant erasing the drawing board and starting over with a completely new game plan.
It meant senior Jalen McDaniels would slide over and play the power forward position in an attempt to help compensate for Cola’s absence.
While the the Eagles were forced to find a way to win without Cola, he had an uphill battle of his own.
For the first time in his life, Cola was introduced to physical therapy.
Once he was able to successfully get on his feet again, the senior said the recovery process was almost like learning to walk again. When physical therapy became routine, Cola moved on to hitting the gym, putting the strength and power back into his legs.
He was cleared to play just before the 2016 postseason started, but it wasn’t until the team’s first practice that Cola realized the injury was behind him both mentally and physically.
“I went between the legs and I dunked,” Cola said. “That moment was it for me as far as the mental side of things goes. After that, there was no way I was trying to get hurt again.”
As a two-time state champion, Cola looked forward to the summer of 2016.
He had just won a second state championship and had been named a senior team captain, so he was prepared to spend the summer bettering his game.
Then the injury popped up again during a fairly routine drill. Afterward, Cola informed his family and coaches he’d made a tough but necessary decision.
“He dropped basketball all together and just went to rehab, and he worked really hard to pick things back up,” Collins said.
A month and a half later, in late July, Cola resumed basketball activities. He spent the next month getting back into playing shape for the season.
He’d go to the gym first thing in the morning to strengthen the knee, take time for a recovery period, then focus on strength and endurance training in the afternoon.
To get his basketball legs back, Cola participated in fall league basketball. By the time he got to the Eagles’ first regular season game against Stadium Nov. 29, Cola was ready to go. Five months later, he was crowned the 4A North Puget Sound League Olympic division’s Most Valuable Player.
Cola’s hard work led to a run through the state tournament and an offer to play basketball at Central Washington University, where Cola will head later this summer for his first camp with the Wildcats.
“He’s a freak of nature, really, just the things he does,” Collins said. “He could go up off the wrong leg and still be above the rim. He’s just growing into himself, so it’s going to be interesting and exciting to see how he develops at the next level.”