Ron Cox's Eastern career marks stand test of time
Eagle hoop standout has his No. 30 jersey retired
Ron Cox (middle) with EWU mascot, Swoop and the school's athletic director Bill Chaves, was honored last Saturday as only the second basketball player in school history to have his jersey number retired.
Ron Cox marveled when he recently returned to the Eastern Washington University campus. Patterson Hall had just undergone a head-to-toe remodeling.
"That was brand new when I came," Cox said when he first enrolled at the school in 1973.
Some things sure do change over time.
But others, like a bevy of school records on the basketball court set by Cox – career marks with 1,741 points and 1,273 rebounds – still remain intact after nearly 40 years.
And that's why Cox joins fellow Eagle alum and Detroit Piston Rodney Stuckey as only the second Eastern basketball player in school history to have his jersey number retired.
The former Coulee City Ram was on hand last Saturday at the Eastern-Weber State Big Sky finale to give a tug on a long rope that unrolled the red No. 30 high on the wall at Reese Court. It rests next to Stuckey's No. 3.
"We are very judicious when it comes to jersey retirements, but this ceremony is long overdue," Eastern athletic director Bill Chaves said. "Ron's career speaks for itself.
It's an honor that is most well deserved considering in addition to his records for points and rebounds, Cox made 62.9 percent of his field goals another school mark that still stands.
Cox earned first team All-Evergreen Conference honors in his final three seasons in an Eagle uniform, and honorable mention as a freshman. He was also a first team NAIA All-District I pick and team MVP his final three seasons, and was team co-captain as a senior.
That's pretty impressive for a guy from a high school with just 75 kids.
"When I think back to growing up in small-town America, if you ever watched the movie 'Hoosiers,' it really wasn't any different," Cox said of his hometown at the end of Banks Lake.
How the basketball team did was the subject of conversations that occurred the next morning at the coffee shop, Cox said. Because basketball was a pedigree that began to be earned early. "When you were a first-grader people start talking to you about how you're going to play for the Rams when you get into high school."
"When we had district tournament games I remember lines of cars following the team to the tournament, it was just so out of 'Hoosiers,' it was just the way it was," Cox said.
It was likely during State B time in the old Spokane Coliseum where Cox began to get noticed. He helped lead his team to the big basketball bash all four years he played, finishing second twice. As a junior, Cox set a State B tournament record with 67 rebounds in four games and still holds tournament records for career rebounds with 270.
In addition to Eastern, Cox was also recruited to Central and Western Washington for basketball, and by Washington State – and Eastern – for football. "I had some decisions I had to make but all along I wanted to play basketball," Cox said.
That came in 1973 for coach Jerry Krause, but it could just as easily have ended as quickly as it started had Cox not had a strong work ethic built from summer jobs on area farms.
"Looking back I just dreaded Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, those conditioning days," Cox said. "I'm not kidding you, I question every day why I was doing that," Cox said. "But I fought through it."
Those dreadful days were the same year after year, Cox recalled. "But my sophomore year it got easier, my junior year it got easier; senior year I was that guy looking at those poor freshmen."
Cox's first two seasons were played in the old Memorial Field House that stretched along Washington Street on the southern end of the campus.
Once part of the Faragut Naval Training Depot at Bayview on Lake Pend Oreille, the structure had a large dirt floor for football, a practice basketball court, the game day court, locker rooms and a swimming pool.
"In the locker room you always had this great chlorine smell," Cox said.
It was a memorable playing environment. "The crowd was literally on top of you, and everything was so steep," Cox said. "There were no retractable bleachers, they were all built it."
"A guy did a-head-over-heels roll about halfway up down to the floor; I don't know if he felt anything because he had enough to drink that it didn't matter."
The Special Events Pavilion – now Reese Court – replaced the Field House in 1975. The Field House was consumed by a spectacular fire in April 1977 while it was being demolished.
"It was like moving from a high school gym," Cox said. It was a grand facility. "We always talked about who would be the first to score in the new building," but Cox said, "It wasn't me."
For Cox, his most memorable – or forgettable – moment in the Special Events Pavilion centered around games with Central Washington. The Wildcats were yesterday's Montana Grizzly's when it came to rivalries in Eastern's NAIA days.
In back-to-back years Eastern fell to Central with trips to the national tournament in Kansas City on the line.
"We win at Central and come home and have to win one of two games and we lose both," Cox said.
But basketball, and the nearly $170 per quarter tuition waiver it provided was a means to an end for Cox, and many others.
"I found an old book in storage and there was a receipt in there for tuition for $168 and I couldn't even fathom that," Cox said. "I did my graduate work here in 1994 and that was $1,200 a quarter."
Despite being drafted in the sixth round of the 1977 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cox's calling was to teach and coach. He learned the latter from a true craftsman of the trade, Inland Northwest Sports Hall-of-Famer, Krause.
"A lot of it comes back to just being in this program with Dr. (Jerry) Krause," Cox said. "He was such a fundamental guy in the game."
There wouldn't have been a better environment to learn the game of basketball in than with somebody like him or maybe one of Krause's friends, John Wooden, Cox said.
"The influence he had on the game of basketball, not just in this region but nationwide," Cox said of Krause.
Ron Cox in the Memorial Field House days.
A lot of his players left this program and were successful coaches, including Cox who coached Tekoa-Oakesdale to the 1992 State B championship before becoming a graduate assistant coach at EWU for the 1994-95 season. He returned to teach and coach at Tekoa-Oakesdale prior to moving to Lakeside High School near Spokane. He was 280-199 in 19 seasons at Tekoa-Oakesdale, and was 87-57 in six seasons at Lakeside.
Cox was inducted into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998, and in 2011 was admitted to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Hall of Fame. While he no longer coaches at the high school level, Cox is in his 35th year of teaching, currently at Lakeside.
Cox and his wife, Betty, have been married for 40 years. They have three children and seven grandchildren, all who live in the Spokane area.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.