Men's Basketball

Former sixth man Josh Fox becomes focus for UC Davis

Video: UC Davis forward Josh Fox looks to lead Aggies to more success

Aggies senior leader talks about being at UC Davis, trying to help team repeat or surpass last year's historic season, and the future.
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Aggies senior leader talks about being at UC Davis, trying to help team repeat or surpass last year's historic season, and the future.

Josh Fox said it was tough trying to keep pace with his athletically gifted siblings growing up.

“I’m the least athletic one in the family,” said Fox, a strapping 6-foot-6, 215-pound senior forward at UC Davis. “They really taught me to have a tough skin, and it’s because of them that I have such a love for the game.”

Conrad Fox, 23, played basketball at Sonoma State, and Joyce Fox, 26, competed in college volleyball in Florida. Three-sport standout Emelita Fox, 19, was “the best athlete of all of us” before being forced out of sports because of injuries.

“There was no remorse,” Fox said of their competitions growing up. “We all love each other, but it was sibling rivalry to the fullest. My oldest sister hit her growth spurt pretty early, so she used to beat on me and my older brother. My brother broke my arm, gave me a couple of bloody noses. I dislocated his shoulder. We’ve got a bunch of holes in the house because we used to fight.”

These days, the cunning and physically gifted Fox is trying to punch holes in opposing teams’ offensive and defensive schemes. He leads the Aggies (4-3) in scoring (15.7 points) and is second in rebounding (8.4) entering Tuesday night’s game at the University of San Diego (3-6).

He sets the tone for our physicality, he sets the tone for our defensive mindset, and he sets the tone with rebounding. He has been dominant at times in all the areas, which is crucial for this team and crucial for the young guys to see what it takes to be a good Division I basketball player.

UC Davis men’s basketball coach Jim Les on senior Josh Fox

“He sets the tone for our physicality, he sets the tone for our defensive mindset, and he sets the tone with rebounding,” Aggies coach Jim Les said. “He has been dominant at times in all the areas, which is crucial for this team and crucial for the young guys to see what it takes to be a good Division I basketball player.”

Fox set a UC Davis Division I program record with 18 rebounds, added 16 points, played all 40 minutes and caused migraines for rival Sacramento State on Nov. 24, though the Hornets prevailed 84-79 in the first of two Causeway Cup battles.

“We just basically told our guys we’ve got to attack him,” Sac State coach Brian Katz said. “We’ve got to have two guys wherever he is at all times. He’s that good.”

Junior point guard Darius Graham, a close friend and roommate, calls Fox the team’s most important player.

“His tenacity and his heart are second to none,” Graham said. “The way he dukes it out in getting position on the block, you have to get him the ball. Most of all, he demands a lot out of everybody. He’s not afraid to get into someone’s face and demand the same level of intensity.”

New role as senior

Fox had a much different role last season. With fifth-year seniors Corey Hawkins, Josh Ritchart, Avery Johnson and Tyler Les leading the team, Fox provided energy off the bench in the program’s history-making season. He was voted the first Big West Conference Sixth Man award winner after averaging 9.0 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.

With forward and five-year veteran J.T. Adenrele sidelined with a knee injury, Fox is the only healthy senior on the UCD roster this season.

15.7 Average points per game by Josh Fox, UC Davis’ leading scorer

And he’s become the team’s focus, which he relishes.

“I’m just trying to maximize the freedom the coach gives me and try to help the younger guys be better,” said Fox, a native of Fiji who also plays for that country’s national team. “I’m trying to be a tough matchup for other teams, especially on the defensive end.”

More impressive, Les said, is Fox’s offensive improvement.

“It’s been fun for us as a staff to put him in a number of different positions ‑ out on the perimeter, in the post, handling the ball in a playmaker role,” Les said. “You look at guys on the floor – the really good ones – and they are not only good in their productivity, but they make everyone around them better. He’s doing that, too.”

Fox’s biggest goal is to help the Aggies continue to build on the momentum of last season’s 25-7 record that included winning the Big West Conference regular-season title and gaining the program’s first National Invitation Tournament berth.

I’m just trying to maximize the freedom the coach gives me and try to help the younger guys be better. I’m trying to be a tough matchup for other teams, especially on the defensive end.

UC Davis senior Josh Fox

“We don’t have any lower expectations, even though we’ve only got a few guys with Division I experience,” Fox said. “We have a huge learning curve, but I’m confident we can make some noise.”

Fox said overcoming inconsistency and playing better at the end of games are the most immediate challenges for a team with five new players in its nine-man rotation. The Aggies held late leads in losses to North Dakota State (in overtime) and Sac State and almost frittered away a 13-point lead in their 66-61 rematch win over the Hornets on Dec. 2 at the Pavilion.

“We’ve had some mental breakdowns, critical turnovers in the last minutes,” Fox said. “We’ve got to do better at closing out games.”

Long journey to Davis

Fox was a four-year standout at Sacred Heart Cathedral in San Francisco and helped the Fighting Irish win the CIF Northern California Regional championship at Sleep Train Arena as a senior.

He and prep teammate Taylor Johns signed to play at UC Riverside, and Fox had his best game his freshman year against the Aggies when he scored a team-high 22 points and had nine rebounds in a loss at the Pavilion. But he injured his knee late in the season and decided Riverside wasn’t for him.

He returned home to Daly City, played a season at City College of San Francisco, then picked UCD over several other schools, including Hawaii, a Big West Conference rival of the Aggies.

Les persuaded Fox to sign, even though the Aggies had just finished their 10th consecutive losing season.

“We had a heart-to-heart, and I shared my vision of where I thought the program could be with him being an integral part of it,” Les said. “He’s more than fulfilled his end of the bargain.”

But Fox didn’t need a lot of arm-twisting, either.

“Darius was right,” Fox said of Graham. “I got to know him through mutual friends when I was in high school. Even back then, I was really thinking about going to Davis, and he really wanted me to come with him. But I have no regrets, because you live and learn. I’m happy now. There’s a real family feel on this team just like I had in high school.

“With Coach Les, it’s more than about basketball. He’s always asking us about what’s going on in our lives. And Davis is just a very welcoming community.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP

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