LAUREN COX

Flower Mound alum and Baylor senior Lauren Cox, right, jockeys for position against her younger sister, Whitney Cox, during a non-conference game between Baylor and Lubbock Christian.

As she walked off the court at Iowa State’s Hilton Coliseum on March 8, never would Flower Mound alum Lauren Cox have imagined that would be the final game of her decorated college basketball career. After all, Cox and No. 3-ranked Baylor still had an NCAA championship to defend.

But Cox, and numerous other seniors across college basketball, won’t get the opportunity to end their careers on their own terms — coping with an abrupt end to the 2019-20 season after the NCAA’s decision to cancel its annual postseason men’s and women’s tournaments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The first couple days were pretty emotional for me. I cried for a couple days just because I had no idea that that last game I played in would be the last of my college career,” Cox said. “It’s been hard because of all the unknowns — not knowing if the WNBA season is going to happen or if I’m even going to be able to play again.

“I think that’s probably the hardest part, but it’s been nice being home with my family and spending time with them.”

It was a finish Cox and her teammates hardly saw coming, initially thinking that the most dire side effect of the coronavirus outbreak would be the cancellation of the Big 12 tournament. At least that was the sentiment as the Lady Bears were boarded and waiting on the runway to travel to Kansas City to play in their conference tournament. That flight, obviously, never happened.

“We sat there for about 30-45 minutes until they brought us back and told us the Big 12 tournament was cancelled,” Cox said. “At that point, we didn’t know if it would be the whole thing or not. We just knew it was the Big 12 tournament.”

It was later that afternoon, while at home, that Cox got the news that the NCAA was canceling all remaining sports for the 2019-20 school year — a time when sports leagues across the country suspended play, including the NBA, NHL and MLB.

“I’m freaking out because my college career is over, I don’t know what’s next for my career. There were a lot of different emotions going on that point,” Cox said. “There’s not much that you can say — it’s just something you have to work through and let yourself cry about it and let yourself feel all the emotions. That’s a big part of my life that’s just gone in an instant. I had to let myself go through all those emotions, but it helped being with my family and having them comfort me.”

Even weeks later, it hasn’t entirely set in for Cox that she will no longer don a Baylor uniform. In four years of college hoops, the Flower Mound great had built off her exemplary high school career and blossomed into one of the top college players in the country. As a senior, Cox averaged 12.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.7 blocks on her way All-American first-team honors from the Associated Press and the United States Basketball Writers Association.

She has earned some form of All-American commendation each of the past three seasons since breaking out as a sophomore and was an NCAA Final Four all-tournament selection in 2019 after helping guide Baylor to its third national championship as a junior.

The opportunity to do so again as a senior, in the final year of her collegiate career, meant something different for Cox and teammate Juicy Landrum — the only other player to have suited up alongside Cox for the past four years at Baylor.

“Me and Juicy have been together for four years and have developed a great friendship over that time,” Cox said. “It was hard for both of us. We had been there for all four years and seen each other grow and the program grow. It was hard for the two of us.”

Cox is hopeful that last stroll off the court at Iowa State isn’t the last time she’ll be playing high-level basketball, despite the initial uncertainty as to what was next for her career. With the entire sports world on hold, it remains to be seen when professional basketball will return to normal, but Cox naturally has an eye on the WNBA.

Fortunately for the Flower Mound alum, she could realize that dream soon enough after it was reported on Thursday that the WNBA will hold its 2020 draft on April 17, albeit without players, guests and media present.

Instead, league commissioner Cathy Engelbert will announce the draft picks live on ESPN2 and the top prospects will take part remotely. If prognostications are any indication, Cox could hear her name called early on — numerous mock drafts have the former Lady Jaguar projected as a top-three pick.

“It would be a dream come true. I’ve wanted to play at the highest level with the best players in the world ever since I started playing basketball as a little girl,” Cox said. “It’s going to be an amazing moment that I can’t wait to share with my family and I’m really looking forward to it, whenever it does happen.”

Cox hasn’t let off the gas in anticipation of that moment either — exercising daily with her family as they collectively adapt to the coronavirus outbreak.

“I’ve been trying to be creative with workouts. Gyms are closed right now, so we’ve been to a local park that has a basketball hoop and we’ve used some weights in our garage to lift, plus some conditioning like riding a bike or doing some sprints on a hill on the side of the road,” Cox said.

That has also meant some changes to the family’s day-to-day routines, including an uptick activities like puzzles and card games for Cox and her three siblings — all of whom have gone on to have stellar athletic careers of their own: Whitney is a freshman for Lubbock Christian’s women’s basketball team, Kaylee helped lead Flower Mound to its first-ever state volleyball championship in 2018, and Madison is fresh off earning district Newcomer of the Year honors as a freshman for the Lady Jaguars’ basketball team.

“We’re lucky and blessed to be such a big family that gets along, because we’re stuck in this house with each other. If we didn’t all get along, I don’t know what would happen,” Cox said. “I’m lucky to have three sisters that I get along with great and we can just hang out together. 

“But we’re also getting kind of bored with all this free time. We’re so used to running in four different directions, whether it’s going to basketball games, volleyball games or practices.”

Cox is no doubt proud of the legacy her family has left at her high school alma mater — one she can add to soon enough as she eyes a basketball career in the pros.

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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