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Whatever The Game, No. 1 Prospect Lauren Cox Is Here To Win

Undeclared senior Lauren Cox manages her diabetes, stars on her volleyball team and is the No. 1 basketball prospect in the country. Courtesy USA Basketball

If anyone wants to know about Lauren Cox's competitive nature -- one of the big reasons she's the nation's No. 1 women's basketball recruiting prospect -- might we suggest an analysis of her performance at Target?

Every year in early November, the Flower Mound (Texas) girls' basketball team holds a scavenger hunt at the retail store. No one inside the store is notified about the hunt, which is merely for fun and team bonding.

The players are broken up into five teams of three or four girls each. Once the bus pulls into the parking lot, assistant coach Danny Gillham gives the contestants a list of six things to accomplish inside the store. Examples include filming a quick video of a customer saying, "Go, Lady Jags!" or taking a photo with someone who has facial hair.

Before last year's hunt began, Gillham gave a basketball quiz with questions such as, "Who won last season's WNBA title?"

Cox, according to teammate Marin Mills, aced the quiz, allowing her team to get a head start into the store.

"We're not allowed to run into or in the store -- everyone speed-walks," Mills said. "As we walk in, Lauren's not yelling, but she is stern. She's very competitive, and we're deciding strategy on the fly."

Cox remembers her team winning -- accounts on that vary a bit depending on who you ask -- but there is no doubt that the Flower Mound star is a leader.

"I take control of my group and try to get everything done," Cox said. "I hate losing."

Flower Mound coach Sherika Nelson can vouch for that.

"If Lauren's not first," Nelson said, "she's upset."

Cox, a 6-foot-4 senior forward and the No. 1 player in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2016 class, doesn't lose often.

Last year, she led Flower Mound to a 28-8 record and a berth in the Class 6A state semifinals. And although the Jaguars came up two wins short of a state title, it was the best showing in school history.

Cox, 17, averaged 21.7 points, 15.3 rebounds and 5.4 blocks per game last season and was named the Gatorade Texas Girls Basketball Player of the Year. She also has represented the United States on three occasions over the years, winning three gold medals in tournaments in Mexico (U16), Czech Republic (U17) and Russia (U19).

With the early signing period set to open in less than a month, Cox has cut her list of college choices to four: Baylor, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Tennessee. Her remaining visits are this weekend at Connecticut and next week at Baylor.

Cox said she has had a great time so far on her college visits.

At a Notre Dame football game, a 38-3 win over Texas last month, the players threw her up in the air each time the Irish scored. At Tennessee, she took part in a video scavenger hunt.

Soon, though, Cox will have to get off that euphoric high of being the most heavily recruited female basketball player in the nation because she will have to tell three of those coaches that she has picked another school. She plans to make that decision early next month and then sign during November's early period.

"It's going to be really hard because all five schools have awesome coaching staffs and amazing programs," said Cox, who has a 3.8 GPA and is interested in studying sports broadcasting.

"But I think that once I have made all five of my visits I will just feel it -- it will hopefully feel right."

Diabetes diagnosis

When she was 7, Cox was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Untreated, the disease can be fatal, but it can be controlled by supplemental insulin, which is administered by injection or pump.

Cox changes the infusion set for the insulin pump every other day, and that's something she's done since the early stages of her diagnosis.

"She's very responsible," said her father, Dennis. "I don't remember having to give her the shots past the first week. But dealing with diabetes is a 24/7 thing -- she never gets a break."

Cox controls her diet, which helps normalize her blood-sugar levels.

"It's tough," she said. "You see all your friends eating whatever they want, and you can't really do that. You have more responsibility than a normal teenage kid."

There are pro athletes who have had outstanding careers while battling diabetes -- 1940s-era baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson and current NFL quarterback Jay Cutler are examples.

Cox doesn't plan on letting diabetes get the better of her.

"It's a big obstacle," she said. "But I think it would be cool if I could talk to kids to show them what they can accomplish."

A family full of talent

Five of six family members in the Cox household played or play basketball. The only exception is Kaylee, a 12-year-old volleyball standout who is already 5-foot-10.

"She's a drama queen and a social butterfly," Lauren, the eldest of the four daughters, said of Kaylee. "I hardly ever see her because she's always out with her friends."

Dennis, who is 6-foot-4, played basketball at Central Methodist University in Fayette, Missouri. He was a post player on a team that led the NAIA in scoring at 106 points per game.

He said he "married up" when he connected with Brenda, who was a two-year Division I starter as a 6-2 post at SMU.

Whitney, 14, made the varsity basketball team this year as a 6-foot freshman wing.

"She's kind of the clumsy, awkward one of the family," Lauren said. "But I'm really excited she's on varsity this year."

Madison, who already is 5-foot-5, is the family's showstopping 10-year-old. She admires Michael Jordan and wants to be just like Lauren, right down to the fact that she wants her sister's room when she goes off to college next year.

Madison's Twitter handle is @TheFuture2023.

Justin Higginbotham, who coaches Lauren in AAU ball for Texas United, said Madison is "uber" talented.

"She handles the ball really well, and her confidence is off the charts," he said. "She's been on just about every college campus -- the coaches love her. She knows she's good. She's a ball of fun.

"Maddie should probably have her own reality show."

Special talent

Nelson, who is about to start her ninth season as Flower Mound's coach but has been around the program since it began in 1999, said the school has never had another player as good as Lauren Cox.

"She controls both ends of the court," Nelson said. "She changes the way the game is played at the high school level."

Cox, who also plays volleyball at Flower Mound and was named preseason All-American in that sport by MaxPreps, will devote herself to basketball in college, which is a scary thought for teams that will oppose her.

Nelson said she used Cox to bring the ball up against pressure last season. If she faces man defense, Cox will dribble past her defender. If a trap arrives, she is so tall that she can simply see over the top and find the open teammate.

Nelson, who believes Cox will be a combo forward in college, said her star player has faced junk defenses in nearly every game she's played.

"I've seen teams run a triangle and two," Nelson said, "with the triangle on Lauren, and the other two players guarding four girls. I've seen little guards face-guarding her, bugging the heck out of her.

"She gets a lot of physicality thrown at her, but she doesn't fall for it because she knows that in order for us to win she has to stay in the game."

Higginbotham, her club coach, said he admires how she has stayed loyal to her teams.

"She's been a great ambassador for us on the court but an amazing ambassador off the court," he said. "I'd be willing to bet a steak dinner that whatever college she chooses, that's where she's going to stay."