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NC State’s Final Four run gives Maddie Cox a chance to follow in sisters’ footsteps

Maddie Cox has been here before. She’s been to the Final Four and national championship game twice.

OK, she didn’t actually play. The N.C. State freshman, however, watched two of her older sisters win titles.

Lauren Cox played for Baylor from 2016-20, winning the women’s national championship in 2019 under then-head coach Kim Mulkey. Lauren won Big 12 Player of the Year that season, while picking up multiple All-America honors. The eldest sibling was the third pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft and now plays in Italy.

Whitney Cox won the NCAA Division II national championship with Lubbock Christian in 2021, while Kaylee Cox plays volleyball at Western Kentucky.

Maddie expected to be in a similar position after watching her sisters’ success, and now she is.

No. 3 seed N.C. State plays top-ranked South Carolina in a Final Four game on Friday.

“It’s just been a great experience. She’s the furthest from home and our last to leave, so it was a little worrisome, but she’s done a great job,” said Brenda Cox, Maddie’s mother. “She’s adjusted. The team and coaches have supported her, and she’s happy where she’s at.”

Plus, Maddie learned a lot from her siblings. When Lauren went through the recruiting process, Maddie often tagged along, seeing the ins and outs of various campuses.

Growing up in the Cox house in Flower Mound, Texas — a suburb north of Fort Worth — was competitive and loud. Her parents, Dennis and Brenda, both played college basketball and transferred their athletic prowess onto their children.

It was completely unexpected, too.

“Even though we both played college athletics, I definitely didn’t expect to have four kids with their college paid for and excelling in something that they love to do,” Brenda said.

Maddie grew up playing alongside Lauren and her older teammates in club basketball practices. Maddie could often be found in practices and competing with girls seven or eight years older. Was it a little wild? Absolutely, but she held her own and it’s paying dividends years later.

“I get personal experience from it. Even growing up watching her, I spent my entire childhood watching basketball, being dragged to tournaments,” Maddie said. “I think it’s definitely given me an advantage and expanded my (basketball) IQ.

“(Lauren) is doing everything that I want to do. She’s overseas. She’s played in the WNBA. She’s where I’m trying to get. I think looking up to her has been really helpful.”

Her sisters regularly text Maddie to provide advice and encouragement. They make recommendations about ways to improve her game. Lauren’s encouragement at the beginning of the year was important. Maddie struggled with confidence, but her eldest sister used her time at Baylor as a way to connect.

Lauren also reminded Maddie to slow down. Take in the Final Four. It’s often a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and she’s there.

Her family members are her biggest fans. Her parents hopped in a car after their flight to Cleveland was canceled. Brenda attended every NCAA Tournament game and cried with her daughter after N.C. State’s Elite Eight win over Texas.

Whitney made it out to Greensboro for the ACC Tournament and is on her way to the Final Four. She said her favorite memories from this year were watching Maddie hit big shots — namely 3-pointers against UConn and Tennessee.

Kaylee hopes to travel to Cleveland if the Wolfpack makes the national title game.

“It’s honestly just awesome, getting to know she’s getting to experience it,” Whitney said. “I won mine at the DII level, so it was a little different, but just knowing she is getting to have these experiences — especially as a freshman — and knowing she has three more years to continue growing.”

That means the most to N.C. State’s young forward. She went from playing HORSE with her sisters and her parents and taking halfcourt shots at halftime during Whitney’s games to contributing on a Final Four team. And, her sisters have been there for it all.

“They are as close as I could imagine sisters being,” Dennis said of his daughters. “They really love and support each other. They will go to extraordinary lengths to watch each other play and support each other.”

The Cox family will get one, hopefully two, more chances to do that this season.