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<i>This feature story is from the September 2004 issue of the Inside Carolina Magazine. To learn more about the publication and how to subscribe, <a href=http://northcarolina.scout.com/3/icmag.html>CLICK HERE</A>.</i>

Catching Up With Ed Cota
Former UNC point guard Ed Cota (‘00) has traveled quite a few miles. He was born in Los Angeles, raised in Brooklyn, and has dual citizenship in Panama through his parents. Since graduating from UNC, where he amassed 1,261 points, 1,030 assists (No. 3 in NCAA and ACC history), and 517 rebounds, he has played in the CBA and overseas in Belgium and Lithuania. A knee injury prevented him from participating in the 2004 NBA Summer League, and now Russia is a potential destination this coming season. And during the offseason, he resides in Chapel Hill with his fiancé. Through it all, his eyes are still on the NBA.

Inside Carolina Magazine
September, 2004
INTERVIEW: J.B. Cissell
PHOTOS: Craig Jones/J.B. Cissell

I
 understand that you are currently negotiating a contract with a Russian team, Spartak, St. Petersburg. What are your thoughts about heading over to play in Russia?

It's not official yet, but yes [I'm talking to them]. I don't know anything about St. Petersburg, but I've been to Russia a few times. We had games in Russia. I've been to Moscow. St. Petersburg, I've heard it's not a bad city. Moscow is very nice, and some people say they like St. Petersburg much better. I'm still talking to my team in Lithuania, so I still am not sure what I'm going to do.

You've had to adjust to a different culture before, in Belgium and Lithuania. Do you have any concerns about adjusting to another culture?

I think it's good to be able to travel around the world and see different things and interact with different cultures. But it doesn't change me. I'm still the same person and do things the way Americans do things. You just have to make adjustments when you are there.

What are the biggest adjustments you've had to make away from the basketball court, in day-to-day living?

Just being able to communicate. I don't know the language, and not many people in Lithuania speak English. Only the younger generation did, and I mostly hung out with an older crowd, which made it difficult. You meet people, and they help translate. I think that was the biggest adjustment.

The food is the same, not much difference. You can find the same stuff you find in The States.

How would you compare European basketball to basketball in the United States?

When you talk about the Euroleague, that's the second-best league in the world behind the NBA. It's more like the college game, but there are more talented players.

Do you see a lot of Americans overseas?

In Lithuania, there weren't too many Americans, just me and maybe three others in the league. In the Euroleague you run into many different Americans because every team has at least two. You see a lot of guys you are familiar with.

Did you get to be friends with some of the other guys on opposing teams?

Oh yeah, we all stick together. That's the good thing. You want to be able to meet some other Americans on different teams, especially on the road. You can hang out with them and talk.

Did you become friends with anyone whom you played against in college?

Most of the guys I didn't play against, except for Chris Carrawell. He played with me on the same team and we built a nice relationship. The other guys I didn't play against in college, but I knew of them in college.


"I'm 28 and [the NBA's] my goal. No matter how old I get, that's my goal just because I know I can play in that league."

Chris Carawell—what was that like? You two went head-to-head in the Duke/ Carolina games, and then you had a few exchanges in the media.

Yeah, that's just being competitive. It's only on paper. Of the court everybody was fine. He was just taking up for his team; I was taking up for mine. You know—that bad blood between Duke and Carolina. (Grinning)

Tell me about your summer. I know you had a chance to play with the Detroit team in the NBA's summer league, but a knee injury prevented that.

It's my left knee. I have a small tear in my tendon, so I have to let it heal by getting as much rest and the right kind of exercise as I can to strengthen it. I was looking forward to this summer. I thought I was at my best, really. Then this knee situation happens. It's just another obstacle that I have to [overcome], another step back. It was very disappointing.

You've been out of school for a few years. How old are you now, and are you still looking at the NBA as a possibility?

I'm 28, and that's my goal. No matter how old I get, that's my goal just because I know I can play in that league. It's unfortunate that I haven't had a shot at playing in the NBA—a good shot. But I still feel like I'll be able to make it there. I just have to take it one year at a time. A lot of people say I'm getting old, which is true, but at 28, 29, 30, I'm saying ‘til 32 at least, those are your best years really. I'm getting better as I get older.

In what ways are you getting better—are you getting faster, jumping higher, or just understanding the game better?

I've always had quickness, except for my senior year when I gained too much weight. Now, I'm at a fit playing weight (190 lbs), I'm faster, I shoot the ball much better. Playing in Lithuania improved my shot tremendously because that's all they do is shoot over there. I'm learning how to play the game, too. I always thought I knew how to play the game, but you learn more as you get older.

What other ACC players have you crossed paths with?

Chris Carawell, we still keep in touch. Ademola [Okulaja], I played against him twice since I've been in Europe. Mahktar Ndiaye, I haven't played against him, but I've seen him when I've gone to France. Sarunas Jasikevicius, he's great.

How much have you been able to follow the current Carolina team?

Last year I got to follow them quite often because I had the Internet at home, but I only got to see Carolina play two games and both were against Georgia Tech. But from those two games I could get a good perspective of the team. I wish I had [seen more], but I didn't get the chance.

Have you had the chance to be in contact with any of the current players?

When I come back I see them all. I didn't get to play this summer, which was unfortunate, but I get to see them play and talk to them, stuff like that. I go out with them every once in a while.

What are your impressions of the guys on the team?

Oh, they've got a great group of guys. They all are good individuals, they are talented, and as far as off the court they have good senses of humor and good character. They are all good guys, and I can't say anything bad about any of them.

As a former point guard at Carolina, what are your impressions of Raymond Felton?

I love his game. I love the way he pushes the ball up the floor. He's a junior this year, so I know he will be much more mature. When I talk to him I just tell him that he needs to lead the team and he shouldn't be afraid to take over the game.

I think that's what this team was lacking the past two years, not having somebody to take over games and not worry about taking the [credit or] blame for a win or loss—just taking things in your own hands. As a leader at the point, he should take initiative to do that. And I don't just mean him taking the shot but getting the ball to the right people as well, when it's time to win games.

Raymond doesn't strike me as the personality type to be someone who is vocal. He has deferred to a large degree the past couple of years, offensively, some have argued too much. Do you think it's in Raymond to be more assertive this year?

I definitely think it's in him. He has all the tools as far as that goes. I was never that vocal. I let my actions speak for themselves on the floor. If I got vocal, it must have been serious. Other than that, I think he has all the ability in the world to lead this team. They have all the pieces they need. I think he just needs to run the show.


"I love [Raymond Felton's] game … When I talk to him I just tell him that he needs to lead the team and he shouldn't be afraid to take over the game."

Fans talk about the family atmosphere with Carolina basketball, and we in the media hear stories about how Coach Smith and Coach Guthridge keep in contact with all the former players with hand-written notes. Does that happen with you?

Yeah, it's always been a family here. We build great relationships. Coach Smith and Coach Gut are always keeping in touch and trying to help players and encourage [former] players to keep doing what they are doing even if it's not basketball. Maybe it's another profession. They always keep in touch to let you know they are there.

OK, without violating any confidences or betraying the UNC basketball family, shortly after you left, Matt Doherty took over and there was a lot of turmoil surrounding the program. Now that Roy Williams is back, what is your opinion of the current state of the program and the basketball family?

I can say this. More and more guys came back this year. I don't know if it has anything to do with the coaching change or if guys just had an open schedule this summer—I don't know. I know when Matt Doherty came on board a lot of guys stopped coming back, but I don't know for what reason. I didn't see too many changes, only the coaching change. I wasn't really around to witness anything else. It was kind of surprising to see that.

When you are not playing basketball how do you spend your time?

I just hang out with my friends. My fiancé is here. I don't do too much. I get to be laidback and travel a little bit. I go home and see my family in New York. I just got back from the Virgin Islands with Julius [Peppers] for a little vacation time.

Most of the time, I just want to relax when I get home because in Europe you are playing so much. It's busy because you might only have one day off each week, and the other days, if you don't have a game, you are practicing twice a day. When I come home I just want to rest and relax, but I just need to keep playing and working out because I still want to make it to the NBA.

In regards to the NBA, how are you keeping in contact with that option—is it through your agent, Coach Smith, Coach Guthridge?

Coach Smith, Coach Guthridge, and my agent, but I'm not really focused on that right now. I have to worry about my current job and being the best basketball player I can be at that point for that team. Towards the end of the season, when summertime is coming, I'm trying to find a good opportunity for myself.

How did you leave things with coach Larry Brown and the Pistons?

They said just to get healthy, and when I do they'll give me a look and give me a shot. Coach Brown is busy with the Olympics and the Russian opportunity is not something I can pass up, not knowing that I will definitely have a spot. And that's all from just not being able to play in the summer. Had I been able to play, I feel I'd be in a great situation right now, especially with Detroit. There is always next year, and hopefully they'll give me another shot. I thought it would be a risk if I stayed here, especially with my injury. I don't want to miss out on two situations.

My money [in Russia] is guaranteed. I have a good relationship with the coach. He knows about my injury, and they are willing to work with me.

IC
When I have the opportunity for the NBA, I want to be at full strength with no excuses.


Assistant editor J.B. Cissell can be reached at jbcissell@insidecarolina.com.


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