At a time when college coaches near and far are vying for the services of Lauren Cox, Justin Higginbotham is hoping he won't have her on his team this summer.
Make no mistake, Higginbotham says it has been a blessing to coach the No. 1 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 for the 2016 class. But he knows Cox has bigger aspirations this offseason: a spot on Team USA for the FIBA U19 World Championship.
"I really hope that Boo Williams [Nike Invitational on April 24-26] is the last time she plays for me," said Higginbotham, coach of Texas United. "[U19 tryouts] will be tough -- there's a lot of competition there. But she seems to be able to do whatever she sets her mind to."
As the 2014-15 season comes to a close and current senior stars prepare to head off to college, attention turns to a junior class led by the uncommitted 6-foot-4 forward from Flower Mound, Texas.
Playing alongside top 2015 prospects Katie Lou Samuelson, Asia Durr and others, Cox started all seven games for the USA Basketball Women's U17 national team at the U17 World Championship last summer and averaged more than seven points and eight rebounds per game. She then averaged more than 21 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks a game this past season as Flower Mound made it to the Class 6A state semifinals for the first time in program history. She was named the Texas Gatorade player of the year after her junior season.
After she entered the year as the consensus top junior recruit, Higginbotham said Cox has grown even more this season, transforming her body, her mind and her game. She's gotten stronger while developing her versatility and being more aggressive, improving her mid-range game and her handle in the open court.
Sherika Nelson, Cox's high school coach, said her star player also showed more maturity as she led Flower Mound to its first regional title.
"When we got in big games, she showed calmness," Nelson said. "In years past her youth would come out and you could see the emotional side of her, and this year she was still an emotional leader but she led in a way that everybody could rally around."
It's no wonder she's so popular with college coaches that Cox said she was tired of talking on the phone -- not a common complaint among teenage girls.
"It can be a little stressful at times but it's an exciting process to be going through," Cox said. "I'm not one to talk on the phone for a really long time. I don't really like calling coaches, but I need to get to know them so I need to be doing that."
The recruiting process started when Dennis Cox, Lauren's father, handed her a packet with the names of every Division I school in the United States. Lauren crossed off all the ones she wasn't interested in and ended up with a list of 29.
From there, she used the phone calls and in-person visits -- she would sit down with coaches for 30 minutes during the fall recruiting period -- to narrow her choices down to nine, which she recites alphabetically: (Texas) A&M, Baylor, Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
Cox said there's no timetable for when her list would be cut. Nelson expects a top three or four will emerge by the end of the summer and that a decision will be made by November's early signing period.
Though Cox has been atop recruiting lists throughout high school, she tries to stay humble and focused.
"To me it's just a number," she said "It's not going to make me big-headed and stuff like that. I'm still going to work hard. It puts a target on my back and makes me work even harder knowing that people want to be in my position."
It also helps that Cox plays volleyball in the fall so she doesn't get burned out from specializing in one sport.
"She doesn't have to worry about basketball for three months," Nelson said. "And that gives her the mental break so when she gets to basketball she's hungry again, she wants to play and she's ready to go."
But Cox is focused on basketball this summer -- specifically, the tryouts for the 2015 USA Basketball Women's U19 team for the world championships, which take place May 14-17 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Cox isn't thrilled about the temperature drop she would experience going from Texas to the Moscow region for the U19 tournament this summer, but the chance to be surrounded by great coaches and great players, plus to keep herself in the mix for a potential spot on the Olympic team down the line, was too good to pass up.
"I know how much wearing the USA colors means to her," Higginbotham said. "Having her for four, five seasons in the summer has been a blessing for me and for the program, but I'd be very privileged if she makes the U19 team and I can sit back and be a fan."