Cox grows into elite player

By Eric Ingles Democrat Sports Reporter

April 12, 2014

Sacred Heart’s latest 1,000-point scorer made no fuss over reaching the milestone. The 1,000th point came on a jumper following an offensive rebound late in the first quarter of a game Feb. 21 at Northwest High School. No one knew it at the time.

In three years in a Sacred Heart uniform, Stefan Cox scored 1,160 points and the final 160 came on the path his team took to a prize more valued than that milestone. He finished that game with 21, a game Sacred Heart won to finish off an unbeaten regular season and a Kaysinger Conference title. He scored 16 in the first round of the Class 2, District 14 tournament, 25 more in the district semifinal, 29 in the district final, 19 in the sectional, 27 in a quarterfinal win over West Platte, 17 in the Class 2 state semifinal and 13 as Sacred Heart beat Iberia to win the state championship.

“Coming into the season I didn’t even know,” he said. “Throughout the season, Coach sometimes puts out the stats. By that point I started seeing I was up to 500, 600 points. I started wondering a little bit how many I had in my career.”

He scored 630 points as a senior at Sacred Heart, averaging 20.3 points per game to earn Sedalia Democrat All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year honors.

Sacred Heart coach Steve Goodwin coached Cox all through school and saw the kind of athlete he is long ago.

“I knew he was going to be good when I saw him pick up a ball in fourth or fifth grade,” Goodwin said. “He had that look and then he really started putting in the time. Seventh and eighth grade, he was solid. As a freshman, we had a really good team and he played a little. In his three years, he went 82-5.”

Cox spent his junior season at LaPorte LaLumiere in Indiana, leaving he said because he wanted a change of scenery. This season, Cox returned to Sacred Heart to find a roster that was different from the one he played with as a sophomore.

“We had a lot of talent,” he said. “It took us a couple of games to learn to share the ball and learn our roles. The roles were more defined when I was a sophomore. This year, we had four or five guys that on any given night could go for 20. Sophomore year, Lakin (Kehde) was the distributor. He knew where to get the ball. Me, Caleb Morrison and Jared Dey led the scoring. This year, a lot of guys were capable of scoring.”

When he got back to Sacred Heart, Goodwin noticed a better attitude and more unselfish play.

“I just felt like he matured and then his game matured,” Goodwin said. “He was really good as a sophomore but he had deficiencies. He really worked on that stuff. He came back as a better, more mature kid, and it showed in the way he played. I was very proud, when Keyaire (Marshall) made a shot (Cox) was the one pumping his fist. You wouldn’t have seen that as a sophomore.”

The Gremlins opened the season against tough competition and eked out win after win against larger teams, beating Marshall by 11, Battle by 10 and Grain Valley by three. After the Grain Valley game, the next team to get within 10 points was Green Ridge in the Kaysinger Conference tournament final, more than two months later.

“It was a lot of fun, just getting up and down and playing like that,” Cox said. “One night Keyaire might score, another night it’s me, Chase (Lyles), Jimmy (Villalobos), Garrett (Strange). We were just playing and having fun. We just liked to get out there on defense and that helped us.”

As a freshman, Cox and the Gremlins lost in the sectional to Salisbury. Cox said that loss frustrated him, but nothing frustrated him more than the loss in the district final the following year to Tipton.

“It was always a tough game when we played them,” Cox said. “I started working hard in the offseason after that because that one stung.”

That was the last time a Sacred Heart basketball team with Cox on the roster ever lost.

His offensive game evolved this season compared to what he looked to do with the ball as a sophomore.

“I would shoot 12 3-pointers a game sometimes,” he said. “After that is when I broke it down and hit the weight room. This year if my shot wasn’t going, I could always get to the basket. My mid-range game is the best. I really like taking the ball in the open court.”

In order to take the ball in the open court, Cox improved on defense. As a senior, he led the team with 3.8 steals per game.

“Coach tells us to keep active hands,” he said. “I just stayed in there and had active hands and looked for steals.”

In what might have seemed like an off night for Cox in the state title game, Goodwin saw a player who had matured to do the little things to help the Gremlins win.

“They’re holding the ball and he gets a steal out front, that wouldn’t have happened two years ago,” Goodwin said. “When we were up with six minutes left, he batted a ball away that went to Keyaire, Keyaire threw the ball back to him and he got some free throws. I thought defensively he was much better all the way around. He knew when he was on and he knew when he was off.”

Cox was doing those little things to contribute all season.

“He averaged 6.7 rebounds per game and as a sophomore I think he had six rebounds all season,” Goodwin said. “He had 75 assists on the year and he had 15 as a sophomore. He was just a more well-rounded player in every way, but mostly above the shoulders.”

For the season he shot 45 percent from 3-point range and 51 percent from the field.

“As a whole, his season stands alone as excellent,” Goodwin said.