By Jordan Ingram
Main Line Life Sportswriter
Intelligence is golden.
Jake Cohen's biggest strength as a basketball player has always been the ability to always make the right decisions. Whether the Berwyn native's playing in the Narberth League or among the nation's best at the Reebok All-American Camp, the 6-foot-10 center's knack for making smart plays is impeccable.
When the Conestoga big man made a verbal commitment to mid-major power Davidson over Stanford University, many people agreed that he made a wise move. With the signing, Cohen became the second 2008 All- Main Line selection to make an early D-I decision after Lower Merion small forward Greg Robbins committed to Richmond.
Cohen is also the second boys basketball player from the Main Line to sign with the Southern Conference (SoCon) program since former Shipley star Boris Meno. The star center is just happy to finally have a college program to call home.
"It feels like I have a big weight off of my shoulders now," said a relieved Cohen. "I feel like I can focus more now on playing for Conestoga basketball than what college I'm going to attend."
A more focused Cohen could create even more havoc for the Central League. In 2008, Cohen averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds en route to receiving Main Line Player of the Year honors. With the help of fellow All-Main Line guard Matt O'Hara, the duo were catalysts to the Pioneers posting a surprising 20-5 record which included a sweep of Lower Merion.
After the season, Cohen received considerable college interest from the likes of Penn State. Though the possibility of signing before the 2009 season wasn't out of the question, Conestoga head coach Mike Troy was ecstatic that Cohen had an abundance of choices in the first place.
"I wasn't concerned whether Jake was going to sign early or when exactly it was going to happen," Troy said. "I was happy for him that he was able to choose from a number of schools that he wanted to go to and he made a choice that he was comfortable with."
Cohen earned the right to choose from a plethora of suitable colleges from his strong play during the offseason. Playing for the Team Philly AAU basketball team coached by Lonnie Lowry (older brother former Villanova star Kyle Lowry), Cohen solidified his stock locally with strong performances in the Rasual Butler All- City Basketball Classic where he received Defensive MVP of the senior game.
His true homecoming came at the Reebok All-American Camp where Cohen was able to display his skills in front of numerous D-I coaches at Philadelphia University. Cohen received considerable exposure playing on the Allen Iverson team because of his blue chip teammates which included number one-rated Florida guards junior Brandon Knight and senior Kenny Boynton as well as University of Washington signee Clarence Trent. The ultra-bright Cohen understood the importance of playing well in the month of July.
"I knew I had to work really hard in July and it really paid off for me at the Reebok camp and at the other tournaments following," said Cohen. "A lot of high major schools like Stanford and California started to catch on and take notice of me for the first time. It opened up a lot of options for me."
During his two summers playing for Team Philly, Cohen was able to capitalize on the momentum he received at Conestoga. With teammates like Villanova signee Maalik Wayns, Cohen felt like his offseasons with Lowry were essential to being ready for Davidson.
"There's no doubt in my mind I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't play with Lonnie and Team Philly," said Cohen. "Those guys just showed me a whole higher level that I needed to take my game to in order to be ready for college. It was hard to make the transition at first, but I got used to it and I realized that it took hard work to earn the scholarship that I wanted."
Lowry felt that being exposed to the diverse talent added to Cohen's confidence and gave him a much-needed swagger on the court.
"We exposed [Cohen] to a different atmostphere," said Lowry. "Part of the game is having the arrogance that you can play well against everybody and when he first came to Team Philly he didn't have that. We kept telling him that he was good and he was able to make it happen during the spring and summer."
The desired college changed on a frequent basis for Cohen. After Reebok, Cohen planned on committing to Stanford University but had to wait on being academically admitted before accepting a scholarship to the Pac-10 school. Deciding to keep his recruitment open, Cohen opted to take an official visit to Davidson in North Carolina. Cohen was automatically at ease by seeing friend, former Conestoga star and current Wildcat freshman Kristen Johnsen, and a very inviting campus.
"I fell in love with the campus because it's a really small school where people know each other which I really liked," Cohen said. "I think I'll fit in nicely with the family atmostphere where everybody cares for each other."
On the court, Cohen will get the opportunity to play for a team that advanced to the Elite 8 last season. With guard Stephen Curry in control, the Wildcats won 25-straight games and upset major schools like Georgetown and Wisconsin during their March Madness tear.
During his visit to Davidson, head coach Bob McKillop let Cohen know that he'll have to earn every opportunity he receives at the next level.
"Coach [McKillop] was pretty upfront with me when I was down there," said Cohen. "I knew that playing time wasn't going to be given to me wherever I chose to go to school so it wasn't a big issue for me."
Receiving significant playing time within two years isn't out of the question at Davidson for Cohen. With key frontcourt contributors like Meno and Andrew Lovedale out of the lineup when Cohen arrives to Davidson, there will be an immediate need for solid big men.
"Davidson has shown now that they're a high-profile mid-major program and I think that Jake, at that level, is good enough to keep them in contention in their conference," said high school basketball expert Steve Keller of Cohen helping Davidson. "I think he's still has some upside left and after a year or so of developing his body, McKillop should be able to use him."