Nov 06, 2018
By David Driver
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The college basketball coaching fraternity is almost always about who you know. That leads to assistant positions, and usually to head jobs at Division I schools.
But that was not the case when David Cox was hired as an assistant coach at Rhode Island under Danny Hurley four years ago.
"I didn't know Danny. Somebody put a bug in Danny's ear (and) Danny called me," said Cox, 45, who had been on staffs at Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Rutgers.
Cox, who grew up in Landover, Maryland, made it clear when he headed to Rhode Island that he eventually wanted to be a head coach. When Hurley left URI to take the head job at Connecticut last spring Cox got his shot and is now preparing for his first season as a college head coach. The Rams open the season at home Tuesday, November 6 against in-state foe Bryant.
"It is an exhilarating feeling but I dare not exhale," said Cox, sitting at a table at the Barclays Center last month during Atlantic 10 Conference media day. "It is kind of a funny feeling; it is a goal I have had the past 20 years and I have finally achieved. But I dare not take a day for granted – I dare not exhale. I am blessed but I don't take it for granted."
Cox played several youth sports in the late 1970s with the Cheverly (Maryland) Boys and Girls Club, where his father was his coach. The younger Cox attended St. Ambrose in Cheverly for elementary school and then was a basketball standout at St. John's College High in Washington, D.C.
He then played four years at William & Mary, and was a starting point guard for three years for the Tribe. Cox once had 12 assists in a game, against George Mason, and graduated in 1995 with a degree in sociology.
One of his classmates and fraternity brothers in Williamsburg was Mike Tomlin, the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"Teaching is such an important element of coaching," said Tomlin, according to URI media relations. "You can't connect with your players without the ability to establish personal relations, which is something Dave has always excelled at. He has walked the walk of his players. He used basketball to earn an education, and he understands the importance of opportunity presented to these young men."
Another friend is Troy Weaver, the assistant general manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA who played a community college close to where they grew up in hoop-crazy Prince George's County, Maryland.
"We are from the same neighborhood, and he is someone who is admired by everyone who knows him because of his work ethic and because of who he is as a person," said Weaver, according to URI media relations. "And he's put in the time and work to get here – there was never any golden parachute for him. He has earned it every step of the way."
Cox coached for the first time at the school level at Archbishop Carroll in the District from 1996-99. He spent the next few years at his alma mater, St. John's, as an assistant principal and also ran the school's athletic department.
He also got experience as a coach with the D.C. Assault AAU program and worked with future NBA players such as Michael Beasley (Miami) and Dante Cunningham (Portland). That helped lead to his first college job as the director of operations at Pittsburgh from 2006-07.
But he had his eyes on a head job.
"By the time I got to Rhode Island, I stated I wanted this opportunity when the opportunity arose," said Cox, who got his master's in education from William & Mary in 1996. "I had conversations with the athletic director as the process was playing itself out. He informed me I would definitely be one of the finalists."
In four years as an assistant at URI the Rams won the conference regular-season title twice and appeared in the NCAA tournament two times.
Cox's parents now live in Upper Marlboro, Maryland and he has other relatives throughout the Baltimore-Washington corridor. He had about 75 family and friends on hand in March when URI opened play in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament at Capital One Arena in downtown Washington.
His first team will include two players from Upper Marlboro: freshman forward Jermaine Harris and junior guard Jeff Dowtin, who also played at St. John's. The coaching staff includes assistant Kevin Sutton, a former standout at James Madison University and a one-time assistant at Georgetown and George Washington.
Dowtin was a key part of the Rams last season, leading the team in assists with 189.
"He was one guy I had to get," Cox said of recruiting Dowtin from his alma mater. And now the Rams have Cox at the helm.
Editor's note: David Driver is a free-lance writer from Cheverly, Maryland who has covered the Atlantic 10 Conference for several years, and contributed to conference publications in the past. He has also contributed to the Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Associated Press, The Sports Xchange, Field Level Media and Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com