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C.M. Newton left a lasting impact on former Vanderbilt star and Mr. Basketball Phil Cox

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Phil Cox has never forgotten the impact C.M. Newton made on his life during his collegiate playing career at Vanderbilt.

“Coach Newton was a true gentleman and a very caring individual,” said Cox, who currently serves as middle school principal in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. “Coach Newton took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to participate as a student-athlete at Vanderbilt.”

Newton, former men’s basketball coach at Transylvania, Alabama and Vanderbilt, passed away Monday at age 88. Following his tenure at Vandy, Newton finished his collegiate career as athletics director at the University of Kentucky from 1989 until his retirement in 2000. He hired two men’s basketball coaches — Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith — both of whom won a national title with the Wildcats.

Prior to his stint in college administration, Newton made a name for himself in college coaching and impacted many lives, including Cox.

A two-time all-state performer at Cawood High School in Harlan, Cox averaged 35.3 points per game as a junior and tallied 28.7 ppg. as a senior. Cox, a member of the Kentucky Basketball Hall of Fame, was named the state’s Mr. Basketball in 1981, drawing immediate interest from Newton, who was the coach at Vanderbilt at the time.

Cox built on his prep career and graduated as the Commodores’ all-time leading scorer after netting 1.724 points in his four-year collegiate career. Cox scored 30 points in his debut against Duke. In reflecting on his playing career at Vandy, Cox said he “will be forever grateful for (Newton’s) willingness to give a young man from Harlan County an opportunity to play for Vanderbilt and compete in the Southeastern Conference.”

Nearly three decades removed from his playing career, Cox hasn’t forgotten the impact Newton made on his life.

“I reflect each day on many of the things coach Newton taught me regarding how to treat people in a professional, fair and consistent manner,” he said. “Simply stated, coach Newton, created a positive learning environment for his student-athletes on and off the court.”

Newton coached the Commodores from 1981-89 and guided Vanderbilt to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament during his final two seasons. The Commodores reached the Sweet Sixteen in 1988.

Newton also was president of USA Basketball from 1992-96 and helped assemble the “Dream Team,” which captured a gold medal in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Newton played basketball at Kentucky under the late Adolph Rupp and was a member of the school’s 1951 national championship team.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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