August 13, 2021 

Lauren Cox embraces her opportunity with the Sparks

On June 27, the Fever announced that they had cut Cox

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Lauren Cox doing dribbling drills during practice. Photo Credit: LA Sparks Twitter Account

There are a lot of expectations that come with being a top WNBA draft pick. Lauren Cox knows all about that.

After a stellar college career at Baylor which included helping lead the team to the 2019 national championship, Cox was selected No. 3 overall in the 2020 draft by the Indiana Fever.

Her career didn’t quite take off as expected, however. The 2020 season was different from the get-go being in the bubble in Bradenton, FL because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Cox’s case, her rookie season was delayed due to her being placed in the league’s health and safety protocols after she contracted COVID-19.

She missed all of camp and the first four games of the season. She then suffered a knee injury towards the end of the season that caused her to miss the last four games of the year. But even when she was able to play that year, she received sporadic playing time for the Fever in 14 games.

Although it was tough for her to sit on the bench wishing she could be out on the court, she continued to put in the work, hopeful that a time would come when her number would be called.

“It was frustrating because not only do you have the expectations of being a high draft pick, but I also have high expectations for myself. When I don’t meet those expectations, I get down on myself,” Cox told The Next. “Definitely the mental aspect of it all is just keep going, keep working. You may not be getting the minutes you want to be getting but you still have to put in the work because you never know what opportunity is next.”

But that opportunity would not come for Cox in Indiana. She struggled to find playing time early this season, appearing in 11 games at only 8.6 minutes per game even as the Fever stumbled out of the gates at 1-15.

And on June 27, the Fever announced that they had cut Cox. It was a shocking move to be sure, to give up so quickly on a player that was initially believed to be a big part of the future in Indiana, but Cox wouldn’t stay unemployed for long.

A few days later, the Los Angeles Sparks came calling. Cox was on her way home to Texas when her agent called and told her the Sparks wanted her right away. She barely had any time to process it before heading out to LA.

She was initially caught off guard by the Fever’s decision, but she always believed that it meant something better was coming.

“It was unexpected, but everything happens for a reason. That’s what I always tell myself,” Cox said. “It all just happened so quick. I’m getting home at 5:30 in the evening and getting on a flight in two hours within getting home. I’m super happy to be here, this ended up being the right fit for me.”

When Cox arrived in Los Angeles, there was an immediate need for someone in the middle. Injuries to Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike left the Sparks frontcourt depleted with Amanda Zahui B. being the only true center on the active roster.

She signed with the Sparks on June 30 and played that night against the Las Vegas Aces. Despite having no time to practice and no time to get acclimated with the team, she ended up playing a career-high in minutes (18) while chipping in four points and five rebounds.

She followed that up with another career-high in minutes (20) against the Aces again on July 2 and once again was a presence on the glass as well as showing off her ability to stretch the floor with her jumper. She credits the Sparks team culture with being able to fit in so seamlessly without having any time to learn any plays.

“The minute I got here everyone was super welcoming, super helpful. I came in and played my first game without knowing any offense, knowing any defense. My teammates were helping me out on the court and the coaches believed in me to just throw me out there and say ‘okay do your thing,’” Cox said. “The coaches have told me that I’ve come in and done a really good job given the circumstances of not knowing much about offense and defense within this program. I’m starting to fit in really well and get more comfortable.”

In the five games that Cox has suited up for the Sparks, she’s been able to show a little bit of everything that once made her a top lottery pick. But it’s been the defensive side of the floor where she’s been able to stand out.

In the Sparks final game before the Olympic break on July 11 against the Minnesota Lynx, Cox had a couple of possessions in which her defensive ability stood out.

On one possession, she found herself matched up against Napheesa Collier, one of the WNBA’s up and coming stars, and forced her into a difficult fadeaway jumper. On another possession, she came over on the weak side to block Sylvia Fowles at the rim.

It’s that defense that can help the Sparks, who are already one of the top defensive teams in the league, in a big way. Cox relishes the opportunity to go out there and make big contributions on that end of the court.

“I’m a player that’s willing to do anything, I’m not one that needs to score 20 points a game to be happy. I can get a few blocks here and there, get a few rebounds here and there and be completely happy as long as we’re getting the win,” Cox said. “I’m just willing to do whatever my team needs me to do. I think having that mentality helps me out a lot. I was a defensive player in college too, I definitely bring that aspect of it.”

Cox has also been able to show the type of offensive player she can be. She hasn’t scored more than four points in any of her games with the Sparks, but she’s displayed the type of versatility that she had back at Baylor.

She has that ability to score in the paint, crash the glass and get put-backs, and stretch the floor with her midrange jumper. She has that interchangeability between the four and the five spot depending on the matchup. The Sparks have used her almost exclusively at center, but she’s comfortable with whatever position they need her to play.

“I think it’s pretty important, you’re going to have to work on a little bit of everything. . .I’ve recently just been playing the five, so playing down low, but you never know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what injuries are going to happen, who leaves the team, who comes on the team, so you just have to be ready to be flexible,” Cox said. “I can step out and shoot the three, I can shoot the midrange, I can go inside and bang around a little bit, I’m comfortable what whatever.”

During the Olympic break, the Sparks received word that third-year center Maria Vadeeva would not be joining the team post-break as they initially believed. They will be getting both Ogwumikes back, but there appears to be room for Cox to carve out a consistent role for herself up front.

She’s grateful for the opportunity the Sparks have given her and she wants to continue to build on the foundation she started right before the break as she continues to get acclimated with her new teammates.

“It’s just continuing to get more and more comfortable with my teammates and the team overall, and keep building that chemistry,” Cox said. “Just keep improving with whatever I’m doing whether that’s working on my jump shot or post moves inside, whatever it is just keep improving.”

Written by David Yapkowitz

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