March 11, 2014
By Kelli Grashel
Most NCAA basketball players are discovered under the bright lights of their high school gym, but Mason Cox isn’t like most college basketball players. He was discovered in the campus recreation center, standing tall over the rest. Cox’s 6-foot, 10-inch stature may seem like the ultimate key to being a basketball star, but his rare height originally led him to success off the court.
At the age of four, Cox started playing recreational soccer, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Nolan. Cox played recreational soccer until fourth grade, when he began playing for select teams until his junior year of high school. He traveled to Europe and several places all over the United States, including a trip to Disney World, a place he later returned to for a basketball tournament this year.
His entire life was soccer. He had picked up a basketball maybe once or twice. There was a basketball goal in his driveway, but they had to move all the cars in order to use it. That changed when he moved into his dorm at Oklahoma State. There, he banded together with some of his floor mates to play in intramural sports.
He went to the gym every day for about a year, and it was hard to miss him. A graduate assistant for the women’s basketball team noticed him there and asked if he wanted to help out with the women’s team. The Cowgirls’ associate head coach Bill Annan organized a scout team, and Cox was playing center.
“I was pretty weak back then, so Lindsey Keller beat my tail in the post,” Cox said. “It was embarrassing to get my tail whipped by a girl. It was frustrating at times, but they’ll bang bodies in there – it’s not as easy as it looks.”
The Cowgirls won the WNIT that year, and two weeks later, Cox received a phone call from Tommy Wade, the director of player development for OSU’s Cowboy basketball team. That phone call turned his world upside down.
It started out as a normal day. Cox went to class at 10:30 a.m. and received a call from Coach Wade. At around 11:30 a.m., he called his Dad to tell him he was going to talk to the coaches. At 1 p.m., he was in practice, and by the end of the day, he was the newest member of the men’s basketball team.
The first practice wasn’t easy. In fact, it was extremely intimidating. Cox said he was “sucking wind” the entire practice. The team never used that as a reason to take it easy on him, though.
“I’ll admit it, I’ve been dunked on quite a few times by the team,” Cox said. “There was a ‘Dunk on Mason’ drill last year, actually. It was just two-on-one pretty much, and you can imagine Markel (Brown) and Brian Williams coming up against you, it’s just going to be a lob over you.”
That wasn’t the only challenge. Not only did he have to keep up physically, but he also had to learn the fundamentals and plays.
“Heck, I didn’t know what a hedge was in basketball,” Cox said. “I hardly knew what a ball screen was at that point. The coaches kind of walked me through it and helped me through things. Now I guess I know quite a bit about it, so it was a big learning curve for me.”
Many of the guys were willing to help him, but this year’s team captain, senior Markel Brown, wanted to teach Cox all that he could. Brown said when Mason first started, he just wanted to get him to know the plays and do the right things as far as the coaches wanted.
“Sometimes he would get out there and not know the plays, and coaches would get a little mad him,” Brown said. “I would just tell him don’t worry about it. I would walk him through the plays while we were sitting on the sidelines just to help him out.”
Cox had plenty of help along the way. Several other teammates, like former Cowboys Darrell Williams and Keiton Page, as well as current teammate Michael Cobbins, all helped Mason to know where to go and what to do. Cox said Coach Ford, who understood he knew nothing about basketball, walked him through it and even helped him out. Other coaches like Butch Pierre and Steve Middleton were also of great assistance.
“Coach Middleton helped me out quite a bit,” Cox said. “He still does today. I’m still learning from him because obviously I don’t know everything. He’s been a huge help.”
Before Cox started having the hectic schedule of a student-athlete, he was already managing a full schedule as a mechanical engineering major, a Student Government Association senator, a member of the Student Advisory Board, and as an Off-Campus Student Association chairman. Those are a lot of responsibilities for a normal student, let alone tacking on practices, team meetings and traveling for games. But, that never stopped him from fulfilling all of his duties.
“It’s a lot of communication with people,” Cox said. “You have to get everybody on the same page and tell them ‘I might have to miss this for a game, or I might have to do this or that.’ People in the academic office have been good about that with athletics.”
Cox recently finished his most difficult semester, filled with engineering classes, and struggled to juggle that with basketball and all of his campus involvement. Despite the stress of last semester, Cox didn’t quit when times got hard.
“I thought I could handle it, and I think I have pretty well, as far as grades and things,” Cox said. “I figured, if I can fight through this semester, I’ll have the next semester off, and I’ll always be able to look back at it and think it was something cool to do. That, and my parents enjoying it so much that I didn’t want to disappoint them.”
Leading up to his senior season, Cox wasn’t expecting any more playing time than he had received the year before. Cox admitted that he understood walk-ons don’t play legitimate minutes. After playing soccer his entire life and only being involved with basketball for two-and-a-half years, he never expected to actually play.
At the same time, he stayed true to his mantra of putting in a 100-percent effort every single day and helping the team get where it needed to be. Cox believed to “expect the unexpected”, which would eventually hit him at the midpoint of his senior year.
Cox’s hard work paid off when he was called on to play six minutes against Texas, more than he’d played in two seasons combined, leading him to put up a performance good enough to be utilized in several of the following conference games.
“If you had told me at the beginning of the year that I was going to be playing seven minutes against Baylor, get four fouls and almost foul out, I would have laughed at you,” Cox said.
Brown, a critical component to helping Cox learn plays at the beginning of the year, played a big role in getting Mason into the game.
“I went to Coach (Ford) myself after we lost Michael (Cobbins) and then lost Marcus (Smart),” Brown said. “I asked Coach to put Mason in the game because he’s come a long way from his first year with us. He’s learned a lot and worked his butt off to get better even though he knew he wasn’t going to get to play. I think it paid off for him.”
All his hard work did pay off for him to have the experience of a lifetime, which has become an experience he shares closely with his family, who has never missed a game. His dad has been his biggest supporter despite living in Flower Mound, Texas, and traveling often for work.
However, there was no way his family was going to miss any of Cox’s basketball season.
“He’s the biggest diehard fan of a walk-on kid who has hardly played basketball,” Cox said. “It’s always cool to look down the bench and see your family sitting there; dad taking millions of photos, mom grinning from ear to ear and your brother sitting there laughing about everything that’s happening, kind of sitting in disbelief. It’s awesome having that kind of support, and I’m very grateful for it, but I think I’ve been very fortunate as far as being able to have a family that’s supportive and is able to come to all those games like that.”
Mason wasn’t the first in the family to be an OSU walk-on. He was preceded by Nolan, his older brother who walked on during Ford’s first year after first playing around in the Colvin Center and then going to the women’s scout team, just like Mason. Nolan never played basketball in high school, either.
“It’s kind of been a weird thing that’s happened,” Cox said. “It has been a pretty cool experience for my family to have two brothers, or two sons I guess, both play for Oklahoma State. He played like a minute and a half the whole season, so I always throw it in his face that I’ve done more in my basketball career than him.”
His freshman year, Mason Cox was playing a game of pick-up basketball in a crowded gym with no idea of what a ball screen was. Three years later, a crowd of more than 10,000 fans watched as No. 53 checked into the game against Kansas State. Seconds later, Gallagher-Iba Arena erupted as Cox, the walk-on who never thought he would play, slammed home the final points of the game on Senior Night.