Former Walker Valley basketball star Mindy Cox is coming home, more or less.
Cox, who was part of the first Lady Mustang basketball team in 2001, has been tapped to replace departing Ocoee Middle girls basketball coach Joe Spencer, who stepped down at the end of the 2014 season after 40 years as a head coach.
Spencer will remain as OMS director of basketball operations.
Cox comes to OMS after four years as boys and girls basketball coach at Niota Elementary where she held the reins on combined sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade basketball teams. Her sole focus at Ocoee will be on the eighth-grade Lady Colts.
“I feel like this is more targeted toward one team, whereas I have been working with several teams there, kind of spreading myself a little thin. Here I feel like I can really focus on one grade level,” said Cox who will also teach science at OMS. “I’ve been happy at Niota. I’ve had several other offers but I think this is the one, as far as teaching and basketball goes, that I am the most comfortable making a move for. It’s definitely not going to be fun leaving, because I teach two grade levels. Telling my seventh-graders is going to be something that won’t be fun to do. I have a great relationship with my co-workers and the administration as well.”
Her first year at Niota produced only two wins. The second year her girls team made a complete turnaround with 13-5 season. In year three, Niota won the McMinn County tournament in the girls Big School Division. The 2013-14 season was a bit of a letdown that ended with a 6-11 record.
Cox came to the attention of OMS athletics director Kent Smith after a call from former Lady Mustangs coach David Tucker, who highly recommended Cox. It is Tucker’s philosophy that has played a large role in the way Cox approaches her own brand of mentoring young athletes.
“It was a lot of fun playing with coach Tucker. I still have close contact with him now and he has been great. I learned a lot from coach Tucker not just about basketball but in life,” stated Cox. “His main thing is have fun. Family and church come first, basketball is somewhere after that. That is kind of my personal philosophy as well. They have to have fun or they are not going to play. I like to have a lot of fun, cut up and build that personal relationship. Then I think they perform a lot better.”
The call played no small role in the decision of Smith and OMS administrators.
“Coach Tucker is also a mentor of mine, I’ve known him for 30 years. He has really helped me along the way,” said Smith. “When he put the call in to me, I took it seriously. He has bragged on Mindy a lot and I knew the success she has had. I immediately went to the administrative staff and we sat down and brought her name to the table. Mr. (Ron) Spangler (OMS principal) was on board with it. We have confidence in Mindy and what she is going to build.
“This is a big step in our program. Basketball is considered a major sport. This is the first Lady Mustang we have brought back to Ocoee Middle.”
OMS Principal Ron Spangler said he is glad to have one of OMS’s own come back to help maintain a solid girls program.
"She is a very established, veteran teacher and a veteran coach. We are really getting someone who is coming back home that went to school here at Bradley Junior. She went on to Walker Valley then moved through college at Tennessee Wesleyan and is now coming back home to this school," he said.
After making an appearance in the state Final Four in 2005, Cox continued her career at Tennessee Wesleyan where the Lady Bulldogs won the Appalachian Athletic Conference championship.
Cox suffered a personal blow six days before her senior season opener with an injury to her MCL and meniscus ligaments. She sat out the first half of the season after choosing not to have her knee surgically repaired, and returned after Christmas for the final 16 games. Cox helped the Lady Bulldogs win the conference championship in double overtime and a trip to the national tournament as a No. 5 seed.
“We went to the national tournament and that was big for me. I can remember coach (Jeff) Rice asking when we were going to put a number on the banner in the gym at TWC. I just kind of made it a personal goal. I still wear my championship ring which symbolizes I can do anything I put my mind to, whether it is in basketball or life. It was a struggle for me during the season, going from being fairly quick on my feet to barely being able to get down the floor on one leg. But it was a lot of fun,” said Cox, who was named to the Appalachian Athletic Conference All-AAC second team.
Cox is counting on her experience with the Lady Bulldogs and her seasoning at Niota to help the Lady Colts continue a successful basketball program.
“They have always had a very good program here, going back to when it was Bradley Junior. I attended here my seventh- and eighth-grade years. My freshman year was when Walker Valley opened. I’ve been around the school and I know firsthand it’s great academically and seeing the success that has come out of here has been great,” she said.
Smith also said he is counting on Cox to develop the girls into confident individuals ready for the next level of competition.
“It’s mainly getting these girls ready for high school, the fundamentals and getting them ready to play AAA basketball is a big thing,” he said. “This is a premiere job. We are one of the top five in enrollment in the state. To be the leader of the girls basketball program at a school like this is a big responsibility. Over the past five, six, seven years we have been the premier program in the area at Ocoee Middle. She is going to keep it up. This is something that is a big job but it’s a lot of fun to deal with.”
Cox will be looking also to play a role in the development of the younger Lady Colts and helping them to learn to have fun and enjoy the game of basketball.
“We will teach the fundamentals of basketball, having a little bit of say-so with the sixth-graders and teaching them my personal fundamentals that have helped me be somewhat successful,” she said. “I just want them to play hard. Whatever they do, just go out and play hard. They are going to make mistakes along the way, and as long as they learn from them I’m good with that.”