HOF Class of 2023: Phil Cox

Sharpshooting Kentuckian rewrote the men’s basketball record book (1981–85)

Coach C.M. Newton’s first recruit at Vanderbilt, Phil Cox piled up a then-record 1,724 points for the Commodores. As a member of one of the last classes to play without the benefit of the 3-point line, the sharpshooting Kentuckian had to pile up points the hard way.

Cox was honored as Kentucky’s “Mr. Basketball” as a senior at Cawood High School in Harlan County, where he averaged 33 points per game as a junior and 28 points per game as a senior. He was an all-state selection in each of his final two seasons at Cawood.

“I was just hoping that basketball would give me the chance to go to college somewhere,” Cox told the Lexington Herald Leader in 2017. “And then I get to go to a school like Vanderbilt. I owe Coach Newton a lot.”

Arriving at Vanderbilt, he scored 30 points in his collegiate debut—a 76-75 overtime victory on the road against Duke under second-year head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Even playing alongside future NBA draft selections Hutch Jones and Jeff Turner, Cox finished second on the team in scoring that season. His 13.5 points per game remains the fifth-best average by any first-year student-athlete in team history.

Beyond statistics, he cemented his place in Vanderbilt lore in his first season by making late free throws to clinch a home-and-away season sweep against Tennessee.

Cox was a first-team All-SEC honoree in 1982–83, when he was the leading scorer on a team that finished 19-14, and again in 1984–85. He was also a third-team All-SEC honoree in 1983–84. In each of those three seasons, he was also an Academic All-SEC selection.

His 1,724 career points stood as the school record for nearly two decades; it was topped in 2004 by Matt Freije. Cox now is fourth in program history in career points.

“To be able to come from a small town in Kentucky to Vanderbilt, and get a quality education and to become their all-time leading scorer is special,” Cox told VUCommodores.com in 2008. “I held the scoring record for 20-something years. I had great teammates and a wonderful coach, but you had to put the time in. I wasn’t going to let anyone outwork me.”

He ranks fourth in school history in free throws made (442) and third in career free throw percentage (86.2). He still holds the school record for the most consecutive made throws in a season (43) and across two seasons (47).

After his time on the court, Cox went on to become the men’s basketball head coach at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. He has enjoyed a long career in education, including serving as principal of Jefferson Middle School in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, since 2013.