Ole Miss Rebel center Demarco Cox was named the MVP of the Barclays Center Classic this past weekend after he dropped 22 points, 21 rebounds, 4 blocks and a steal over 57 minutes of play in two games against Georgia Tech and Penn State. On the season, Cox is averaging 8.5 points and 8.2 rebounds over 23 minutes per game. From his starting center position, Cox has played aggressive yet smart basketball, and been as reliable as any player on the floor thus far.
And all of this early success seems to have come completely out of nowhere.
Cox, a once maligned reserve big man who many Rebel fans hoped would quit basketball in order to play offensive tackle for the Ole Miss football team, is one of the most important members of a surprisingly capable Southeastern Conference basketball team.
As a class of 2010 high school recruit, Cox was ranked as the No. 9 high school center in the country, and a top-100 overall prospect by Rivals.com's scouts. His freshman season, he had four starts over 29 games, but only averaged 1.6 points and 1.9 rebounds in just 8.6 minutes a game. His sophomore year was certainly more prolific than his freshman season, but it is only prolific in that sense. He averaged 3.2 points and 2.9 rebounds over 13.4 minutes a game, and never scored more than seven points in a single game. His junior season was not slated to be much more productive, as Cox was still in a reserve role for the first seven games of the year before he suffered a season-ending (and redshirt-earning) foot injury.
This offseason, much of the talk around the Rebel big men was centered on Anthony Perez and the freshmen duo of Sebastian Saiz and Dwight Coleby. Any discussion of Cox was typically prefaced with "well, if Demarco Cox is healthy..." or "if Demarco Cox is used appropriately..." or some other qualifier to suggest that Cox is, for some reason or another, incapable of performing well at such a high level, due either to poor circumstances or his own personal shortcomings.
Now, he is regarded as the most reliable big on the Rebel roster. He rebounds well, plays with his back to the bucket, and is a handful to defend. Listed at 6'8" and 276 pounds, he is actually smaller than he was in high school, suggesting that he is in the best athletic condition he has been in perhaps his entire life. And he has taken his newfound starting role with confidence, displaying a capability that his veteran status would suggest.
So maybe Cox, now healthy and in excellent shape, is simply living up to his basketball potential. His surprise emergence is definitely a welcome development after the graduations of Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner. Cox will probably never be all-SEC caliber or break any Ole Miss records as his predecessors did, but he should be a valuable contributor to a competitive Rebel basketball team, which is much more than a lot of us would have guessed.