Lauren Cox proves block solid
Armed with signs and noisemakers, neighbors lined the Flower Mound, Texas, street. Red, white and blue bunting adorned mailboxes, windows and trees. Banners and American flags were everywhere.
As the car containing Lauren Cox approached her family's home, young boys ran alongside in joyous anticipation.
There was even one of those big-head posters with Cox's likeness on the scene.
Finally, Cox, who had just returned from Colorado, where she had made USA Basketball's U16 team, stepped out of the car.
"I was excited to see everybody, but it was pretty embarrassing," said Cox, 15, recalling the scene from this past May. "I was so tired -- I kind of wanted to sleep.
"But [the party] made me feel special, seeing that I had so many supporters. It was pretty awesome."
If Cox -- an undeclared 6-foot-4 power forward in the 2016 class who already has garnered interest from Duke, Stanford, Texas and many others -- continues to progress like she has, this won't be the last celebration in her honor.
Cox, a rising sophomore at Flower Mound, is the daughter of two former college basketball players.
Dennis, who also is 6-4, played at Central Methodist University in Fayette, Mo. He was a post player on a height-deprived team that led the NAIA in scoring at 106 points per game.
He said he "married up" when he connected with Brenda, who was a two-year Division I starter as a 6-2 post at SMU.
But both Dennis and Brenda believe Lauren -- the oldest of their four athletic daughters -- already has passed them by in terms of talent.
That point was driven home -- rather roughly -- last year when Dennis played a five-on-five pickup game against Lauren during a North Texas United club team practice.
"I was in the middle of the lane, I turned around and shot, and [Lauren] blocked it," Dennis said. "It was kind of an aha moment for me."
Rival players know the feeling.
As a freshman, Cox set the school's single-game (11) and season (124) records for blocked shots. She also filled up the rest of the stat sheet. She had five triple-doubles and averaged 13.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.8 blocks, 1.9 steals and 1.7 assists.
At the FIBA Americas in June in Cancun, Mexico, Cox averaged 11.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocks. In the gold medal win over Canada, she was credited with a tournament- and team-record nine blocks.
"The statisticians missed a few," said North Texas United coach Justin Higginbotham, who was watching online. "She really had 12 or 13 blocks."
Higginbotham said it's rare to find someone as tall as Cox who can run as well as she does, pointing out that she is the fastest player on his talented club team that was fifth at last year's AAU nationals.
NTU's Maddie Brown, a 5-11 guard who will be a sophomore at Hebron (Carrollton, Texas), does not argue the point.
"When we run sprints, she always wins, and it doesn't even look like she's trying hard," Brown said. "She has these legs. It's going to sound weird, but she's like a gazelle. Her one stride is like four strides for everyone else."
Perhaps that explains why Cox can guard any position on the floor.
"I'm biased, but I don't think the women's game has seen a defender as versatile as Lauren," Higginbotham said. "She has a 6-11 wingspan, and she takes away 18 to 20 feet of the floor on every possession. Whoever the opponent's best player is, Lauren is able to take her away."
Brown said she recalls Higginbotham putting Cox on a 5-2 guard and thinking it was a bad idea for NTU.
"I thought it was an iffy move," Brown said. "That guard was the fastest person I've ever seen -- her handle was amazing.
"But Lauren got a steal and then another steal and then a block. I was proven wrong."
Cox, listed at 170 pounds, had a challenge at the opposite end of the size spectrum when she had to check a player who was about 6-6 and 250 pounds.
Again, Brown had her doubts.
"I just said, 'Lauren, do your best,'" Brown said. "But Lauren said, 'No, I got this.' And every time that girl tried to shoot, Lauren blocked it into the bleachers."
Dennis Cox said he has noticed that his daughter enjoys hearing the crowd go "ooooh" after a big block.
"If you are going to try to score, she's not going to let you," he said. "It doesn't matter who you are."
Dealing with adversity
At age 7, Lauren was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and needs to take insulin, which she administers using a pump, to survive.
She changes the infusion set for the insulin pump every other day, something she's done since the early stages of her diagnosis.
"She's very responsible," Dennis said. "I don't remember having to give her the shots past the first week or so. But dealing with diabetes is a 24/7 thing -- she never gets a break from it."
Lauren controls her diet, which helps keep her blood-sugar levels stable.
"It's tough," she said. "You see all your friends eating whatever they want, and you can't really do that. You have more responsibility than a normal teenage kid."
There are pro athletes who have had outstanding careers while battling diabetes, from baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson to current NFL quarterback Jay Cutler.
Lauren doesn't plan on letting diabetes get the better of her. In fact, she hopes to play basketball and volleyball in college.
And if she had the time, she could do three sports because she has been a standout in track in various events, including the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put and discus.
Ultimately, basketball is her ticket, and she has written down goals that include winning a national title in college, playing in the WNBA and winning gold in the Olympics.
Perhaps somewhere along the line she can become a spokesperson for overcoming diabetes.
"It's a big obstacle," she said. "But I think it would be cool if I could talk to kids to show them what they can accomplish."