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Cota is still a winner

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Posted: Monday April 03, 2000 02:42 PM


By Tim Crothers, Sports Illustrated

INDIANAPOLIS -- "I'll always feel like something's missing in my career because I didn't win a national championship," said North Carolina senior Ed Cota as he exited the RCA Dome after Saturday's loss to Florida. "But not too many guys have a chance to play in the three Final Fours. My life has been quite a journey."

The Final Four is normally a lousy place to try to get to know somebody. With hundreds of journalists converging on the elite players, there isn't much opportunity for intimacy. I have spoken to Cota dozens of times in his four years at North Carolina, but I never really met him until we sat down together for a conversation on Thursday night in his Indianapolis hotel room.

He told me about the day in February of 1990 when he was in the eighth grade and his parents were involved in a horrific car accident that badly injured his mother and left his father paralyzed from the chest down. He told me how his parents' injuries sent him into a state of emotional shock and how he basically dropped out of school for two years and drifted around Brooklyn playing pickup basketball and gambling on dice in the neighborhood. He told me how the dream of playing college basketball helped him fight his way back into high school.

He also told me about the night just 48 hours before he departed for his freshman year at UNC when he and some friends were leaving a party and one his boys brushed somebody from another neighborhood, which led to a confrontation. Minutes later, when Cota and his friends were standing on the sidewalk, a car pulled up, a gun appeared out the open window and one shot was fired. The bullet narrowly missed Cota. "I had never been anywhere else to see how other people lived, so I figured violence and shooting were part of life, something that goes on everywhere," Cota told me. "I didn't know life was different for other people in the world."

In the emotional UNC locker room after the game Saturday, Cota looked surprisingly composed. As he walked out of the gym after his final college game, he explained his attitude by saying that he was "a survivor." I understood what he meant more than I would have three days ago. I'm glad I got a chance to finally meet Ed Cota.

Tim Crothers is a Sports Illustrated senior writer. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the writer.

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