David Cox on reuniting with Mike Jones, working under Kevin Willard, returning production

After an offseason where head coach Kevin Willard saw two assistants depart the program for their first head coaching opportunities, assistant David Cox became the mainstay on the staff as he returns to Maryland for his second season. Willard elevated Greg Manning Jr. as the third assistant while the hire of former Virginia Tech assistant Mike Jones not only gave Maryland its ace local recruiter, but gave Cox a chance to work with his childhood friend.

“It’s awesome. Mike is known, I think publicly as a very good coach. There’s his DeMatha ties, there’s his USA Basketball ties, but obviously, I know Mike more in-depth than the coach,” Cox said on Hear the Turtle.

“I know Mike Jones the person and Mike Jones the person is an awesome, awesome individual. It’s a win. It’s an all-around win for me. We’ve got another fantastic basketball mind who has some obviously some big-time connections that will help us recruit and he’ll help us coach and help us develop talent because that’s what he’s done. That’s his pedigree. But for me personally, he’s a friend. He’s somebody that I’ve, again, played with when I was 13 and 14 years old, played against in high school for four straight years. Played against in college for four straight years. I’ve known him for over 30 years. So yeah, we have a pretty, pretty unique bond and I’m looking forward to growing together as coaches.”

Cox also had strong praise for Willard’s work ethic after working alongside him for one full year now.

“Well, I think two things stand out to me, just off the top of my head, and that is, he’s extremely sharp…he’s just, he’s really smart. He’s got a great mind and his mind never, ever cuts off. He’s always feeding it first and foremost. He’s always challenging it and he’s not afraid to do things out of the box. So he’s got a sharp mind and I think people would be probably surprised about his intensity. You’ll look at some coaches on the sidelines and you’ll see them yelling and stomping and you’d be like, that’s an intense coach, for example, or Bruce Pearl, that’s an intense coach. And you might look at Kevin and say, ‘oh, you know, I’m not sure how intense he is because he might seem somewhat stoic.’ Let me let you know—he is extremely, extremely intense, passionate, competitive and that’s on a daily basis. He’s pushing the players. He’s pushing the staff. He’s pushing everybody in the right direction. He’s also leading by example as well. Tremendous, tremendous work ethic, but just, again, a sharp mind and super intense competitor.”

Maryland enters the heart of the offseason as a preseason top-25 team and its returning production is a big reason why as the Terps welcome back over 67% of last year’s scoring. While the Terps inked a consensus top-25 recruiting class that will play impactful roles next season, the veteran leadership that returns with Jahmir Young, Donta Scott and Julian Reese back in College Park is what excites Cox about the 2023-24 season.

“I think the first thing is that we’ve now been together, the nucleus of us, meaning the staff and some of the players that are returning for an entire year now. So we know how each other works. We know what buttons to push. They know what our expectations are of them and they will be able to pass that on to the younger to the younger guys, to the freshman as they come into the door. So that’s the first thing. Just a roster point of view, I think we have a very experienced roster. We’ve got some guys who obviously played at a really high level last year and we expect them to take another jump this year. We’ve had some guys who played sparingly last year, and we’re excited about getting them out there and seeing what they have to offer and excited about the jump that they potentially will make. And as you mentioned, that freshman class is a really talented class. They’re hungry. They kind of fit our culture, they fit our mindset. So putting it all together is a part of the job of all coaches. I think that our coach, one of the better coaches in the country. is up for the task.”

The biggest storyline from last season was the emergence of Jahmir Young, who led the team with 15.8 points per game including nine games with at least 20 points. With the former DeMatha and Team Takeover product back in the fold to lead Willard’s team once again, Cox touched on Young’s impact on local recruiting.

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“I think it resonates with all of the other local young recruits that, hey, you know, Maryland is a force to be reckoned with in the future. Maryland is definitely going to put a lot of pressure on all of the local recruits to give us an opportunity to recruit them and perhaps join our program and maybe a message to the rest of the Big Ten and the rest of the country as well that we mean business. His commitment and then his play throughout the year really put us in a good position.”

While the backcourt is in good hands, Maryland will also turn to a new face in the frontcourt to replace Patrick Emilien’s valuable minutes as former Indiana guard Jordan Geronimo was announced by the program as one of two transfer additions. Maryland faced Indiana twice last fall as the teams split matchups and while Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino were the primary concerns going up against the Hoosiers, Cox admitted that new Maryland forward Jordan Geronimo was “the third person that really scared us because of his motor and athleticism and his ability to make the winning plays.”

“We tell him and his mother this when they came on a visit and his father. When we walked out on the court and we saw that he was in a boot, we were like, ‘yeah.’ I mean, not that we wanted the kid to be hurt, but the fact that he wasn’t playing in that first game gave us gave us a tremendous amount of confidence,” Cox said. “So we’re excited for what he brings to the table. Toughness and athleticism and finishing around the rim ability to put the ball on the ground that you guys probably haven’t seen yet. And we will help get him there and an ability to knock some threes down as well so really, really excited about him.

More from Cox

Cox on what he looks for while recruiting: “There are all sorts of ways guys can affect the game now. And then obviously that leads to talent and then it leads to value. What type of value do they, do they necessarily bring [to] their current team? Are they helping their team win? So we’re looking for winners. We’re looking for culture guys. We’re looking for guys who we can see are good teammates who accept coaching, who cheer, even when they’re on the bench and not playing and not having necessarily their best performance and that are out there selfish and all about me. Because that’s what it can sometimes turn into on the scene where young men are fighting for scholarships and fighting to get noticed. So those are some of the things that kind of jump out to us right off the bat.”

Cox on how the program operates under Kevin Willard: “The way I’ve described it as like, he runs the program like a Fortune 500 company where he is he’s the CEO and all decisions lie with him, but he’s very, very much knowledgeable and involved in all of the day-to-day activity here and he makes sure that everybody here are dedicated, committed and on top of their particular assignments.”

On Julian Reese’s development: “In terms of playing first of all, he’s a young man. That is, has a tremendous, tremendous work ethic. So let me just put that out there first. Okay. A tremendous work ethic. He has dedicated himself to this game and he is fully, fully committed. What people don’t see is all of the work he puts in behind the scenes and he puts in a tremendous amount of work. The second thing is that he is extremely coachable. Extremely coachable. He’s like a sponge. He’s looking for more and more information on a daily basis. What I would say just about his progression is, it’s a natural progression…he was a four-star rated, pretty highly ranked recruit, but he was playing high school ball. And then he just entered the Big Ten which the best and most physical and biggest conference in the country. So he had to adjust. It’s a process. It’s all a process. And I do wish the fans and particularly the adults out there would be just mindful of the fact that he is young, he’s 19 years old. He’s just completed his second year of big time college basketball. The progression was amazing from, as you mentioned, game one all the way to the final game in the NCAA tournament. And we expect him to continue to make those jumps because as I mentioned, tremendous work ethic and very, very coachable, coachable young man. So I don’t want to put a cap on his ceiling, but I think he hasn’t reached his full potential yet.”

On freshmen class & former LMU G Chance Stephens: “The four freshmen, Deshawn Harris-Smith. I mean, man, what a phenomenal high school and AAU career he had. He’s probably one of the toughest competitors that I’ve seen at the high school level. Jack of all trades, can absolutely do it all for us. He’s going to be thrust into a position where he’s going to have the ball in his hands a lot. He’s going to make a lot of decisions. He’s going to play alongside his fellow freshmen, but as well as Jahmir and Ian [Martinez] so we’re excited about his growth and potential.

Jamie Kaiser, heck of a year down at IMG, played him some national-level ball this year and I think that really helped him and it’ll benefit him as he makes the transition into college. Jahnathan Lamothe down there at St. Frances. Again, another outstanding high school career. He just comes from great stock, his family, just outstanding people and it translates to him on the floor because he’s extremely, extremely unselfish, plays the right way. A culture guy. So excited about him and then the big fella that we picked up late, Braden Pierce. Hasn’t played a whole lot of basketball. He just started playing basketball, really organized about three or four years ago so a tremendous upside. He’s got a lot of work to do, but a tremendous upside. He is seven feet tall. He is pretty skilled and he’s got a pretty high ceiling.

And then when you think about the two transfers. Shooting was a little bit of an Achilles heel for us last year so we wanted to make sure we went out and got us a shooter, but a shooter that wouldn’t necessarily rock the boat either. We wanted to keep the core guys that we had returning. We wanted the freshmen to be committed to coming in. So we went out and got a younger player as opposed to a grad transfer who you would be obligated to play 25, 30 minutes. We went out and got a younger guy who had a tremendous, tremendous freshman campaign, can shoot the cover off the basketball, high IQ kid a will get better and better in the system and will help us win a lot of games.”

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