Modie Cox envisioned he would be sitting on his couch, not on the sidelines.
Cox had a long history with the game basketball, from leading the former LaSalle High School to the Class B Federation championship and a 27-0 record as a freshman in 1988 to more recently as an assistant coach for St. Mary’s of Lancaster’s Catholic state championship team in 2022.
But then, at a party over the summer, Cox ran into his former LaSalle teammate and childhood friend, Carlos Bradberry. Growing up in the same neighborhood, Bradberry was an aspiring point guard who idolized Cox, even though they were two years apart.
When he was 8 or 9 years old, Bradberry first saw Cox compete in the Biddy Leagues. Cox also was a teammate and classmate of Bradberry’s older brother, Cazzie, and, as a result, became an extended older brother. To this day, Bradberry tells people Cox was the one player he played with who made life easy on the court.
The two eventually became teammates for two seasons, winning two of the Explorers’ nine consecutive sectional championships in the 1990s and stayed in touch through the years, following their sons’ basketball careers. Plus, Cox kept up to date on Niagara Falls basketball since Bradberry took over the program four years ago. It was likely just a matter of time before Cox got an offer to be on the coaching staff.
But as he drove to Niagara Falls High School for his first day of practice on Nov. 14, Cox admitted he had initial skepticism of his new role. But once he heard the basketball bouncing, his doubt turned into enthusiasm, knowing he was at the right place at the right time.
“I don’t think I would have done this with anybody else if the relationship wasn’t there, if I didn’t think we could win (and) if I didn’t go to someone I can learn from,” said Cox, a 1991 LaSalle graduate. “I want to be an assistant — I don’t want to be the head guy — when I also need to go to someone that knows what’s going on, that I feel comfortable (with). I can get in the back seat and (Carlos) can drive this thing versus you’re sitting up under somebody (and) you don’t know what the heck they’re talking about.”
Even with only a few days of practice for the new season together, Bradberry said Cox and his “meticulous” approach has benefited Niagara Falls, such as bouncing ideas off each other and emphasizing the proper way to complete drills. Bradberry also likened the hiring of Cox to his former situation as an assistant for Sal Constantino, where, if something should happen, his new coach could step in without missing a beat.
“We’re not gonna be scared to step on each other’s toes,” Bradberry said. “We might argue at some point this year. That’s gonna be natural because we’re both competitors. And, we’re not gonna agree on everything. But that’s what you want to be surrounded with. You don’t want to be surrounded with a bunch of ‘yes men’ that are (going to) just agree with everything that you say.”
One of the initial discussions Bradberry and Cox had was establishing the boundaries on the sidelines. While Bradberry is drawing up the plays, Cox sees himself as a support system role for the Wolverine players. After playing at the University at Buffalo and having a professional career in Europe, Africa and then with the Buffalo Rapids and Silverbacks of the American Basketball Association in the mid-2000s, Cox developed a new platform for serving the youth.
Cox once served as the Director of Program Development with the Buffalo Police Athletic League (PAL) and oversaw his state-wide “Winning Because I Tried” mentorship program to help children and teenagers develop their self-esteem. His company even allowed him to connect bridges, such as visiting with young detainees at the Hillbrook Juvenile Detention Center in Syracuse in December 2016 and serving as a guest speaker with young athletes from North Tonawanda and Niagara Falls on the importance of tackling racism in December 2022.
The skills he gathered from those experiences as a mentor, along with providing expertise on intensifying Niagara Falls’ defense, makes Cox believe this will be a good fit for all sides as he tries to make the young men better athletes and people. Cox also hopes his new group of players will have the same memories he had as an Explorer, on and off the court — ones he admitted he took for granted.
“The relationships that I built that I still have today kind of are my favorite memories,” Cox said. “Obviously, the basketball’s the basketball. But, if you take that away, man, there’s just so much more to us than just that ball.”
Niagara Falls will begin its new season at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 1 at Niagara Falls High School against Section V’s Victor, a rematch of last season’s Class AA state quarterfinal.