Felix Cox stands 6 feet, 3 inches. He weighs 170 pounds and he’s been gifted with above average athleticism.
On the football field, Cox would be an ideal tight end and defensive end. But he wants nothing to do with football. Never has.
He is not noticeably muscular in his black Hug hoodie. But the weight-room work is obvious when he dons a basketball jersey.
And on the basketball court Cox is most comfortable. Little kids have their special place, Cox says, and his is a basketball court — any basketball court.
More than one football coach at Hug tried to coax Cox out to the school’s football field.
“He’s a tall, strong kid that would have helped us,” Hug football coach Derek Bennett said. “But he would always say he just wanted to work on basketball. He’s more of a basketball kind of guy.”
Cox’s father loved football. And that is why Cox wanted nothing to do with the sport. The 18-year-old loves basketball.
“My mom always told me that any man can be a father but it takes a real man to be a dad,” Cox said. “Every young man deserves a dad, but a father is what I got.”
Cox rattles off the numerous times his father would come to visit, and big plans to hang out never materialized. He says his father to this day does not accept Cox’s sister, Mariah, as his daughter. He remembers the many nights he lay awake in bed, unable to fall asleep as his parents argued in another room.
And Cox vividly remembers the day he barged into his parents’ bedroom and saw his mom pinned to the bed, his father’s hands wrapped around her throat.
He was 3 years old at the time.
* * *
Cox was born in Oakland. When he was 1, his mom, Kishly Cox, moved her and her son to Birmingham, Ala., to live with Cox’s father, also Felix, who was stationed there in the Navy.
His parents always argued. But as Cox played with his cousin downstairs one day, he could tell the argument going on upstairs was different than any before.
“I remember it really well,” Cox said.
The yelling was louder. They yelled plenty. But never like this. There was stomping, and walls were hit. Then, the sound of bodies being hit.
“‘This is too much,'” Cox thought. “I had had enough.”
Usually a quiet, shy child, Cox yelled, “Don’t touch me!” as his paternal grandmother tried to keep him from his parents’ bedroom door. She was shocked by his response.
He banged on the bedroom door. From the other side, he heard, “Don’t come in!” Then, he heard a scream that forced him to disobey his father’s order.
When he opened the door, he saw his father hit his mom. He saw his father’s hands wrap around her throat.
He froze, his brain unsure what exactly his eyes were showing him.
Then, his mom looked over at the little boy in the doorway. Their eyes locked.
“I didn’t know exactly what was wrong but I knew my mom wasn’t OK,” Cox said.
“His eyes got really big and his face dropped,” Kishly said. “I could see his whole world was crumbling down.”
Cox was about 4 feet and 70 pounds (big for a 3-year-old). His father was 6-3 and 175 pounds. But Cox ran over and began pounding on the back of his father’s legs.
“Stop it, stop it,” he yelled. “Get off my mommy.”
His father suddenly emerged from his rage and stepped back from the bed.
“He actually saved my life,” Kishly said. “But I feel so bad he had to see that.”
Kishly and her son returned to Oakland a month later, and shortly after moved to Reno with her parents.
* * *
Initially, his father called or visited regularly.
“He tried to force me to play football,” Cox said. “Every time he would call, he’d ask, ‘Are you playing football?’
“‘No, I’m not playing football.’
“Basketball was an escape. The place where I could go and forget about everything else.”
Cox’s love for basketball blossomed through the Reno Ballers program at the Boys & Girls Club of Truckee Meadows.
His father’s calls and visits eventually stopped. Cox last saw his father 13 years ago.
There were times he longed to have two parents at home. He sometimes opened up to his mom, but only went so far.
“What’s the point of even discussing it if he’s not in the picture?” Cox said. “Why even waste time with it? My sister talked about only having one parent much more. Why? What’s the point? If he’s not in the picture, he’s not in the picture.”
Coaches and other mentors with the Boys & Girls Club soon filled the father-figure void in Cox’s life.
“The more involved in basketball he got,” Kishly said, “the more I started to see that happy child again.”
When Cox got to Hug, he met Charles Walker, the on-campus site coordinator for the Boys & Girls Club and the school’s basketball coach. Walker develops many relationships with his players and others who come through the club.
But that relationship meant much more to Cox.
“Over time, Charles became that father figure that I wanted so much as a kid,” Cox said recently in a speech he gave as the Boys & Girls Club’s 2012 Male Youth of the Year. “Not only did he help me with basketball, but he cared about me and took an interest in my life.”
A rare admission for Cox, who always had a hard time expressing his feelings.
“I’m so glad he has his second family with basketball,” Kishly said. “If he can’t come to me, he can go to his coaches with anything that’s going on, or any of his teammates.”
For Walker, Cox’s admission was equally surprising.
“It meant a lot because these kids don’t just go around talking like that unless it’s a special situation,” said Walker, now an assistant coach at Hug after three years as head coach. “I think I’m in a special position working at the club because I get to be around these guys outside of basketball.”
* * *
Cox, a senior, wants to focus on business in college and then go to law school and eventually be a sports agent.
But his sights are sent on a more immediate goal this weekend: the state tournament.
Hug took second place last year after a loss to nationally-ranked Bishop Gorman.
The Hawks needed overtime to get past Carson in last week’s Division I North region final. They meet the Gaels again today in the state semifinals at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
“I hope we can go ahead and get what we didn’t attain last year, get that championship,” Cox said. “Last year, we strived for that. That’s what we put all of our effort into. We wanted three banners, and when we didn’t get that third, it sucked. But now that this year we have a chance to go back and get it, we’re not going to let it escape us this time.”