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Coaching high school basketball, according to Cortland “Corky” Cox, is a lot like playing a good game of checkers.
“You’ve got to look for tendencies‚ what your opponent will do in certain situations and then you counteract those tendencies,” said the 81-year-old Hodgenville resident.
Judging from his high school coaching record – 247 wins versus 133 losses – in 13 years for LaRue County teams, the former University of Louisville standout guard should know.
Cox will be named March 8 to the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches’ Court of Honor for his having made a “certifiable impact or contribution to the game of basketball at the high school level in Kentucky.”
The award will be presented to Cox between games during the afternoon session of the Boys Sweet 16 State Tournament. He and his family will be honored by a dinner and reception and he will have commemorative brick installed in the Kentucky High School Athletic Association courtyard in recognition of his accomplishment.
Awards have been as numerous as playing pieces on the checkerboard for Cox. He was named Coach of the Year four times; University of Louisville’s Athletic Hall of Fame inductee in 1984; Merit Award for Outstanding Leadership recipient, presented by the Fifth Region Officials Association in 1986; Fifth Region Coaches’ Association Hall of Fame inductee in 1996; and Athletic Directors Hall of Fame inductee in 2001.
The two honors he values above all others, however, are those named after him at LCHS. One of them is the annual Corky Cox Basketball Classic, and the other is the LaRue County High School Corky Cox Senior Award for sportsmanship, citizenship and academic achievement presented each year at the basketball banquet.
“Those things, I guess because I was part of the program there, mean more to me than anything else,” Cox said.
The qualities that the banquet award represents are what many of his former players recall when mentioning their high school basketball experiences.
Gordon Taylor, who played for Cox at Hodgenville High School in 1957 and 1958 and later was national sales manager for C&F Foods, Inc., said of his former coach, “The values of honesty, integrity, and perseverance he instilled in us as players and in our personal lives have endured and benefited me throughout my life.”
Duane Latham, a graduate of the HES class of ’58 who later earned a doctor of philosophy degree, recalled that Cox not only taught the fundamentals of the game, but also leadership.
“He led by example,” said Latham, “and he expected the same from each team member to take pride in what he could do and to do the best each and every time he stepped onto the court.”
Latham added that perhaps his mentor’s greatest quality was his ability to inspire and motivate the team.
“At halftime, he could point out the deficiency of the opposing team and could coach the team in how to take advantage of these deficiencies.”
Cox, from West Point and a graduate of Valley High School, said he learned from a great coach, Peck Hickman, at the University of Louisville where Cox was named Most Valuable Player his senior year.
“Coach Hickman was a good Christian man who taught us values as well as skills on the court,” Cox said.
Hickman was instrumental in Cox’s attaining his coaching job at LaRue County, driving the young job prospect to Hodgenville in 1955 where he met with superintendent Ova Haney and Hodgenville High School principal E.G. Sanders.
On their return to Jefferson County, Hickman told Cox he thought the interview went well, but that Cox should have spoken more.
“Coach, you were talking so much, you didn’t give me a chance,” Cox replied to Hickman, himself a former coach at Hodgenville.
Cox got the coaching and teaching job and took his 1958, ’59 and ’60 teams to the state tournament, even though they had to practice much of that time without a home gym.
“Our gym at Hodgenville burned and the new high school didn’t have a gym at first, so we practiced in gyms at Buffalo, Magnolia – anywhere we could find one,” he said.
Starting with the first team he coached, Cox interjected the idea of teamwork.
“They’ve got to look out for each other, have respect for each other and everybody’s got to feel that they’re a part of the team that causes it to work as a unit,” he said.
After Buffalo, Magnolia, and Hodgenville schools consolidated into LaRue County High School in the 1958-59 school year, Cox’s teams continued their winning ways.
With him at the helm, his players at HES and LCHS captured three South Central Kentucky Athletic Conference crowns, five district championships and three regional titles, averaging more than 19 wins per season.
He left coaching in 1968, but continued as a school administrator in the district until his retirement in 1986.
He said coaching, especially in the college ranks, has changed from when he played and coached.
“Coaches today scout players to fit their style,” he said. “In my day, we took what we had and made it work.”