New Castle High basketball coach Ralph Blundo has watched Sheldon Cox’s steady growth in recent years.
But in the past several months, that growth has been more along the level of leaps and bounds.
“Sheldon’s body changed physically from last year to this year,” Blundo said. “He’s always been a good shooter, but his game has evolved as a rebounder, his defense has improved, he has just generally raised his level of play.
“He’s physically stronger and a part of that was the work he did in the weight room — but I think mostly, it’s just him getting older and becoming a man.”
The 6-foot-2 junior guard enjoyed a career week in leading three-time defending WPIAL Class 4A champion New Castle to a 2-0 start. He scored 23 points in the Red Hurricane’s 66-47 win over Westinghouse in the opening game of the New Castle Tipoff Classic and added 32 points in a 71-51 victory over Sharon on the second day of the event.
Cox was 8 of 20 shooting, with nine rebounds and three blocks against Westinghouse and 11 of 19 from the field, including 8 of 11 from 3-point land, against Sharon. He also had five rebounds, three assists and three steals against the Tigers.
“Sheldon had a good summer,” Blundo said. “He loves the game and when you’re passionate about something, it is going to show.
“He has a renewed level of confidence. He is a junior now and is turning into a leader. He knows what to expect and the kids respect him and, best of all, they like him. The best compliment I can give him is that he’s not just a really good basketball player, he is a kind soul, a good person and a caring person. He cares about other people. It just kind of oozes out of him when you’re around him.”
Blundo said Cox’s success comes as no surprise.
“From the start, I just felt that there was something with Sheldon that was different,” he said. “He was very reluctant as a ninth-grader when I told him I was going to move him up to the varsity. He wasn’t sure if he was ready. I told him, ‘I wouldn’t be bringing you up to the varsity if you weren’t ready.’ “
Cox played in 12 games as a freshman. He is the team’s top returning scorer from a season ago at 12.6 points per game. Still, Blundo said that Cox is a work in progress.
“I want him to continue to improve defensively with a lot of his mechanics and doing things fundamentally right,” he said. “I want to see him improve how quickly he’s able to get his shot off.”
Blundo said the motives for continued improvement go well beyond New Castle High.
“I truly feel that Sheldon is going to play at the next level,” he said. “He plays hard and I’m pleased with his growth, but I think there’s another level we can get to with him before he graduates.
“I don’t think Sheldon is done growing,” Blundo added. “As his feet improve, I think his shot will continue to improve. He already has the intangibles that all coaches at the next level think are important. He’s going to be a great catch for someone at the next level, but of course he still has work to do here first.”