Not that he can help it, of course. Cox had off-season surgery for a stress fracture in his foot. He also missed time due to a death in his family, setting him back further.
Really, these games are his preseason, the time to get back to full strength, to return to form.
“It’s been tough for him, simply because No. 1, it’s like he’s going through his preseason right now,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “Just physically, getting his legs back under him, understanding the stuff we’ve put in.
The problem, however, is Ole Miss can ill-afford to wait for Cox. Not with an all-important trip to Hawaii for the Diamondhead Classic rapidly approaching.
Ole Miss (6-1) hosts ETSU (2-5) tonight at 7 p.m.
“He needed some early success in some of the games we were able to play the young guys,” Kennedy said. “He didn’t have the opportunity to play, to get comfortable in his role. It’s put him behind a little bit. He is a veteran. My hope is he can learn in practice, and then when he gets his opportunity, put it into practice.”
Cox, who Kennedy nicknamed “Bear,” averaged just over 13 minutes a game as a sophomore last season. He was a key contributor, appearing in 33 games, with nine starts. He averaged just 3.2 points and 2.9 rebounds, but his contributions in the season’s latter stages were significant.
He was an efficient scorer, leading the team with a 55.8 field-goal percentage. He scored seven points twice, including against No. 15 Mississippi State in a win. He also recorded a season-high seven rounds three times.
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In short, he’s a player Kennedy and the Rebels need, especially with the increased minutes for senior starters Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner eating into their production.
“He brings a different size aspect,” Kennedy said. “Murph’s a guy that needs angles, he’s athletic. Reg is a jump guy over the top. Bear brings us a different piece up front, something we’ve missed, honestly.
“He would have helped us at Middle. I played Murph and Reg too much. I didn’t think they had as much pop at the end of the game. A lot of that was out of necessity due to a lack of bodies up front.”
Cox is working his way back as fast as he can. An avid runner, those eight weeks spent off the treadmill have taken a toll.
“It’s just the conditioning. Now I’m trying to get my body back in shape,” Cox said. “I used to run all the time. I’ve got to get my body back in shape. Now, I’m back running on the treadmill. It’s hard. I’ve been trying to do that to get back used to running.”
Cox has appeared in three games so far. He’s averaging eight minutes per game, and is 3 of 9 from the floor for all of eight points. He has four rebounds on the year.
Meanwhile, sophomore Aaron Jones, who Kennedy has used as his primary front-court option off the bench, is off to a solid start. He’s averaging 15 minutes per game, minutes that used to belong to Cox.
Jones has grabbed 16 rebounds, good for third on the team.
“Just watching him play, I’d be on the sideline, I can do that stuff he’s doing right now,” Cox said. “I got to get back into that groove. I’m going to get those minutes back.”
Cox could be called upon against ETSU. The Buccaneers enter the game having lost 4 of 5 road games this season, including a 54-38 loss to Georgia.
ETSU returns two starters off of last year’s team that posted a 17-14 record and finished tied for fourth in the Atlantic Sun. The Bucs lost their starting point guard and sport a roster with just seven scholarship players.
ETSU is led by head coach Murry Bartow, son of legendary UAB head coach Gene Bartow. The elder Bartow coached Kennedy from 1988-91.
“I know they’re going to be fundamentally sound,” Kennedy said. “They’ve had some personnel issues. He had to dismiss some of his better players. They’re a team that’s had to fight some personnel issues.
“We’re going to have to attack zone and be aggressive. What I hope we can do is get back to being more efficient offensively, because I think that’s the one area that failed us on the road.”