Running Man

The reasoning was simple enough. Demarco Cox wanted to play. So on the first day of June, he knotted the laces of his shoes and hit the pavement in the early morning hours of a not-so-unusual Wednesday.

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He ran. And ran. And ran some more. A handful of his teammates -- teammates who weighed considerably less than he did -- joined him. Those morning sessions were just the start.

He ran in the afternoon, too. Just running. And running. And running some more. As the days passed by, his teammates couldn't keep up. The added weight, meanwhile, began to pour off.

"I'd run like two miles in the afternoon," Cox, of Yazoo City, Miss., said. "Then I'd go home after running, kind of tired, but I'd eat less food than I normally eat on a daily basis. I was doing it every day during the week."

He exercised more and ate less. Basic stuff. Nothing special. He even took in some not-so-healthy meals on the weekends. A "pretty good meal," he said. But on the following Monday, without fail, he started the process all over again.

"Once I started and got in that shape and got used to running, I was doing it every day. It wasn't nothing to me," Cox said. "I would just pop up out of anywhere and just go out there and go running. Sometimes I was running at nighttime."

There were no magic pills to take or calorie-counting meals to eat. No, just exercise and eating less. Now Cox, a sophomore, is down to 276 pounds. He weighed 321 pounds as a freshman.

Demarco Cox
Ben Garrett

"I was like, I know I got to play a big factor on the team this year," Cox said. "I'm going to have to play. I knew I had to lose that weight before I could get on the floor.

"I knew if I hadn't of lost none of that weight, it was going to be like last year. (Head coach Andy Kennedy) wasn't going to play me a lot. My goal was, if I don't lose this weight, he isn't going to play me. I wasn't going to sit on the bench like I did last year."

The 6-foot-8 Cox played in 29 games last season with four starts. He averaged 1.6 points and 1.9 rebounds in, on average, 8.6 minutes a game. His most productive game was against Alcorn State. He posted season bests of 11 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double.

But he expected so much more from himself. Ole Miss fans expected more, as well. Kennedy praised Cox, his potential and his work ethic throughout the season. However, that praise never lent itself to an increase in playing time.

"I raved about him last year, and I never put him in the game. People had a hard time with that," Kennedy said. "I love the kid. He's the kind of kid you really want to see be successful, ‘cause he works so hard.

"No question, he's going to get an opportunity to help this team this year. He's earned that right. I believe he can bring us something we haven't had in a couple of years."

The hard work paid off as early as the Rebels' season-opening exhibition win over North Alabama last Thursday. Cox earned the start over veteran Reginald Buckner. He had 11 points and six rebounds.

"Demarco has been, as voted on by his teammates, the hardest worker on our team," Kennedy said. "Not only can you see it in the transformation of his body, but he's really just every day, you know what you're going to get.

"Demarco continues to evolve, and every time he can be in a prominent role for our team, he's going to get more and more confident. This is a kid that barely played when we got into SEC play last year. He just needs game experience. The exhibition game was step one, Friday night will be step two."

Cox hasn't run as much lately; not with Ole Miss well into practices and the season set to begin officially Friday night against Louisiana-Monroe at 6:30 p.m. He hasn't had to. But the urge is still there.

He wants to lose 15 more pounds next summer.

"I can run all day long," Cox said. "(Kennedy) probably thinks I'm in the best shape of anybody on the team, ‘cause I can just run. It's hard to keep up with me when I'm running, ‘cause I be running just to be running.

Demarco Cox
Associated Press

"I feel like the lighter I am, the better player I can be. If I can get down to 265, in that range, I feel like I could move a lot faster than I do now. I move fast now, but I'd be able to move a lot faster."

ULM presents some challenges:

ULM returns three starters off a team that finished 7-24 last season. The Warhawks were picked to finish sixth in the West Division of the Sun Belt Conference, and return leading scorer Fred Brown.

Brown, a senior guard, was a preseason All-Sun Belt selection. Brown was 10th in the conference with 13.8 points per game last season.

"They are a team, like us I'm sure, trying to figure some things out," Kennedy said. "From what we've seen, they're going to be like typical teams at the Sun Belt level. They'll have two or three guys on the perimeter that can go make plays. They've got a kid who's a transfer from Kansas State, kid named Fred Brown, who's projected to be their leading scorer. He's a play-maker at 6-2; a guy signed out of high school at the Big 12 level, so he'll certainly pose some matchup challenges for us."

Ole Miss finished 20-14 a season ago, its season ending in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. The Rebels are led by their front court, which includes senior Terrance Henry and juniors Buckner and Murphy Holloway.

"Going in, first game, both of us kind of blind. We'll have to make some adjustments as we go," Kennedy said. "Personnel-wise, they're like most at that level. They'll be able to spread you and play. There'll be many times they'll have four guys on the floor that can shoot it out to three. So one of the advantages we think we may have as it relates to size will be challenged on the perimeter. We'll have to make that adjustment."

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