While the Ole Miss faithful will be decked out in their red and blue swimwear on some distant beach or kicking up their feet to catch an MLB game after work this summer, Ole Miss student athletes will be working to prepare for the upcoming season of fall sports. Though Ole Miss basketball does not tip off until November, physical conditioning and adjusting the game plan to account for the absences of Murphy Holloway, Reginald Buckner, and Nick Williams will be paramount. A flurry of information and an increased level of expectation is about to, if not already been, placed squarely on the shoulders of Demarco Cox. The formidable tandem of Holloway and Buckner are no more. Around the league, recognizable bigs have disappeared. Moussa Gueye, the 7-foot Alabama center, has transferred to Valparaiso. Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers, the imposing duo from Missouri, have graduated. Kentucky's Nerlens Noel has an NBA career awaiting him. Marshawn Powell, one of the most underrated players in SEC history, has declared for the NBA Draft. But despite the exodus, there remain imposing forces under the basket. Florida's Patric Young. Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes. LSU's Johnny O'Bryant III. As a result, Ole Miss needs to be ready to counter their threats with a threat of its own. And whether by desire or necessity, Ole Miss' answer under the basket this year will be Demarco Cox.
But before Cox can improve his rebounding game, his offensive game, his defensive game, his screens, and his passing, he must first deal with the biggest crack in his armor: his mental toughness. Despite his three years on campus, Demarco Cox is not as tenacious as he needs to be to become a successful center in the SEC.
Why? The simple answer is that he's never been forced to be tenacious. As a freshman, Cox averaged roughly 8 and a half minutes per game, adding in 1.3 points per game and 1.5 rebounds per game. In other words, as a freshman, you could count on Cox to get you a free-throw and a board. Kennedy favored rotating Terrance Henry to the 4, relying on Buckner under the basket and Steadman Short as the main alternate. Instead of using Cox more often in the lineup, he was held out of games. In fact, Kennedy would often favor going small over subbing in Cox. That's not a stab at AK, it's just an observation. Perhaps Kennedy was all too aware that his freshman center was nowhere near ready to be thrown into fierce competition. If we want to be completely honest with ourselves, when Buckner got into foul trouble during the 2010-11 campaign (and he did, quite often), there may not have been a noticeable difference between the subs and the cast of "Whose Line Is It, Anyway?" During the Murray State game that year, the second game of the season, I distinctly remember Demarco being subbed in and standing on the lane, waiting for a free throw attempt. Cox was standing directly next to a much smaller forward, and when his teammate missed his free throw (surprise, surprise), Cox was violently boxed out by this far undersized Murray State Racer. My gaze immediately darted to Kennedy, who did not disappoint. Arms raised high in the air, brow wrinkled, and eyes bugged out as only Kennedy can do, he screamed, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?" Cox replied, "He pushed me," to which Kennedy screamed, spit flying from his lips, "DON'T LET HIM PUSH YOU!!" Needless to say, Cox did not remain in the game for very much longer.
In his second year, Cox's numbers took a subtle jump, thanks to a subtle jump in his minutes from 8 and a half a game to 13 and a half per game. Fresh off the return of Murphy Holloway, Henry returned to the 3 for his senior campaign. Behind Buckner and Holloway, Cox became the main alternate, in part because of an injury to Steadman Short, but mostly because of being in the system for an entire year, in addition to his drop in fat and gain in muscle. In his five extra minutes on the floor, Cox averaged 3.2 points per game and 2.9 rebounds per game, or a layup, a free throw, and a couple of boards. Recall, this was the year when the Jelan Kendrick experiment was shot to hell, and Dundrecous Nelson was bounced for weed. It was also the year that a freshman forward with an extremely high motor began making an appearance on the court: Aaron Jones.
Last year, Cox suffered a stress fracture to his foot. It never properly healed, and as a result, Cox was limited to participating in just 7 games, making a negligible contribution to the 7th ranked scoring attack in all of Division 1 basketball. In his stead, Aaron Jones exploded onto the scene, serving as a reliable role player before succumbing to a torn ACL in the Kentucky game. (Another area of concern for the upcoming season, but one article at a time) This left Terry Brutus and Anthony Perez to relieve Buckner and Holloway.
This year, Demarco Cox will be Ole Miss' #1 big. Aaron Jones looks to be in the mix at some point, but expect his reintroduction into the lineup to be a slow one. Unless your name is Adrian Peterson, it's typically very difficult to make a full recovery from a torn ACL in roughly 9 months. And whether you like him or hate him, the 2013-14 Rebels will belong to Marshall Henderson. If I know Kennedy, he's going to throw up 4 screens if that's what it takes to get Henderson a high-percentage look. But to every successful shooting guard, there has to be an imposing presence underneath the basket. This moves an offense from being one-dimensional to being downright dangerous. Cox is not only going to be expected to fill that role, he's going to be expected to pick up where Murphy Holloway left off on the offensive end. And though his style will be different, Cox has all the tools necessary to do it. His frame is an imposing one. With the exception of Jarnell Stokes, no other big in the league can match his girth. And by girth, I mean the good kind of girth. The solid girth. The muscle girth. Not the girth of fellows like this....
Renardo Sidney, the same man that sweated profusely during his shootarounds before games, exuded a different kind of girth.
Demarco Cox is a solid man. He's the same height as Dwayne Curtis, and he's a little bit bigger. He has the frame necessary to be a dominant force in this league. But before you can be dominant, you have to believe that you can be dominant. You have to be mentally tough. You have to convince yourself that no one on the face of the earth can stop you from playing the game of basketball to the highest level.
During his time on the court, Cox has not expressed this confidence. On top of his uncertainty of his game, he'll also have to overcome the hesitation of playing on a newly healed foot. He has the ability to do all of these things and have a fantastic senior season for the red and blue, but he has to be ready for it mentally. Right now, he's not ready. This summer, he needs to get ready. The success of the Ole Miss scoring attack will pivot on his ability to provide a constant, imposing threat inside the paint. The last thing in this entire world the Rebels need is a man as big as Cox that's timid. Ole Miss doesn't need hesitation under the basket. It needs a man that can crack skulls every single night.
This is what Demarco Cox was recruited to do. And as we await the work that Coach Kennedy and Coach Pinkins put in with Cox this summer, we anticipate "The Bear's" time to shine.