When he arrived at William and Mary in the fall of 1991, David Cox hoped he was taking another step toward a career in the NBA. That dream was squashed pretty early.
Having been influenced by two D.C.-area legends as a teenager, Cox had an immediate Plan B — coaching. His first job out of college was as a high school assistant. Then came AAU, to be followed by stops at Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Rutgers and Rhode Island.
All along, Cox dreamed of the day he’d land a head-coaching gig. That came Wednesday when Rhode Island hired him to replace Dan Hurley, who had taken the Connecticut job less than two weeks earlier.
“It was probably my first or second year at William and Mary when I came to the realization that professional basketball would not be an avenue I’d have the opportunity to take,” Cox said by phone Thursday afternoon. “So the next best thing in my mind was trying to be a head coach.
“It’s been a long journey. I’ve coached at every level — AAU, high school, collegiate — and I’ve had my fair share of obstacles. Fortunately, I made the decision to come here four years ago when I was given the opportunity by Dan Hurley. Everything has worked itself out very, very well.”
Cox points to his days attending camps run by Joe Gallagher, his high school coach at St. John’s in D.C., and DeMatha Catholic’s Morgan Wootten. Absorbing all that knowledge, and observing how they shared it, fascinated him even as a high school player.
A 6-foot point guard, Cox played 109 games for William and Mary. He is 10th among the Tribe’s all-time assist leaders with 336, 236 of those coming in his final two seasons.
“He was a great leader for us when I first came here,” said Charlie Woollum, Cox’s coach at W&M in his junior and senior seasons. “The players had so much respect for him.”
As W&M’s floor leader, he got a small taste of what coaching would be like.
“At St. John’s, Joe Gallagher expected his point guard to be an extension of him on the floor,” Cox said. “He wanted me to be able to know the body language of my teammates — who wants the ball, who’s hot, who doesn’t want the ball.
“Point guards are extensions of the coaches. And a lot of them become pretty solid coaches in their careers.”
After coaching on the high school and AAU level, Cox was 32 when he landed his first college job. That was at Pittsburgh as Jamie Dixon’s director of basketball operations for the 2006-07 season.
From there, Cox returned to D.C. as an assistant to John Thompson III at Georgetown. In 2010, he joined Mike Rice’s staff at Rutgers.
In Cox’s third season there, Rice was accused of abusing players and suspended for three games. As the interim head coach, Cox led the Scarlet Knights to a 3-0 record in those games.
Cox remained on Rutgers’ staff a year after Rice was fired. He then was hired by Hurley at Rhode Island, a program on the rise.
In the last four seasons, the Rams have won 91 games. Last month, URI advanced a round in the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row, something it had never done before.
There’s no need to remind Cox he faces an XXL challenge. The Rams lost four starters, including guards Jared Terrell and E.C. Matthews. He also has two assistant positions to fill.
“We do have a decent core of guys coming back and we have a good, solid recruiting class coming in,” he said. “We’ll have to see how it meshes with a new coach and a new philosophy. There are a lot of moving parts right now.
“With all of that taken into consideration, we are going to still attempt to achieve all of our goals. And those are the Atlantic 10 championship as well as getting to the NCAA tournament.”
Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveJohnsonDP.