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ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Missouri’s J’Den Cox hopes this experience at the Scottrade Center is more like “Home Sweet Home” than the performance two years ago.
Cox, a senior from Columbia, Mo., will attempt to win his third NCAA title. The only time he hasn’t won gold was when he had a chance to do it in his home state in 2015.
“It would mean that I only have a two-hour bus ride back home, to be honest,” Cox said with a laugh during a pre-tournament news conference of select top-seeded wrestlers Wednesday at the arena. “No, it would mean the world to me. I came here two years ago and I didn’t get what I wanted; I took fifth.”
Cox is the lone undefeated 197-pounder, entering the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships with a 23-0 mark. First-round action begins Thursday at 11 a.m.
Cox won the 2014 title as a freshman in Oklahoma City, Okla. He was first last season, winning at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden. The Missouri native said he is looking forward to taking advantage of another chance.
“It’s a great thing about life right now for me is that, you know, you don’t always get chances to go back and redo things over again,” Cox said. “I get an opportunity to do that again. And that’s really driving me to accomplish a feat that I wanted to accomplish two years ago.”
Cox is looking to join Missouri’s two-time NCAA champ and four-time finalist Ben Askren as the Tigers’ only four-time All-Americans.
Cox has already experienced international success, earning a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He is one of two Olympic medalists in the field, along with defending NCAA heavyweight champion and Olympic champion Kyle Snyder, of Ohio State. Last summer served as a learning experience on and off the mat.
“Everyone has kind of like either similar issues or similar struggles,” Cox said. “And you have guys to back you in that. So you kind of, coming back, whenever I hit those struggles you know what, other guys got that, too; it’s something I can get through. It's one thing that was kind of cool, I guess, on how I felt on the inside or how things were.
"But also from a wrestling standpoint, it just gave me a boost of confidence, I think. Not to say that I ever lacked confidence, but like there’s just — it was nice to know that, oh, hey, we can go wrestle (Cuba’s Reineris) Salas and some guys from Mongolia or whatever and we do pretty good. It’s like, all right, that’s cool. If anything, it was just a great feat and just to do it.”
Cox said that it is starting to soak in that he is wrestling his last event for the Tigers, devoting his time and effort since he was 18 to the program.
“I’ve known him since he was four, hanging out in my office reading children’s books,” Missouri Coach Brian Smith said. “He grew up in our wrestling room. I coached him in football. We have a strong relationship and he’s a special young man with what he’s done not only for wrestling but for the University of Missouri.
“He went through some hard times and here’s a kid that shines a light because he’s willing to write songs and sing them for fundraisers and be an outspoken person on just how to live your life and making an Olympic team. He’s just a special young man that just does it the right way.”
The relationship between Iowa’s two-time All-American Thomas Gilman and the Hawkeyes’ associate head coach Terry Brands is more than just takedowns and dominance.
Gilman has been a leader for the Hawkeyes, owning 102 career victories, three Midlands titles and an NCAA finals appearance last season. In a pre-tournament news conference on Wednesday, Gilman was asked about Terry’s influence.
“We don’t got that much time so I’ll keep it short,” said Gilman, the top-seeded 125-pounder with a 27-0 record. “He’s had a great influence on me, very big influence on me, not only on my wrestling, but my life and developing as a human being, as a man.
“So just in every aspect, Terry Brands has been there to help me along and help me develop, like I said, not only in my wrestling but becoming a better person on the mat and also off the mat.”
Some seats remain available for Saturday’s sessions of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, including that night’s finals, but all-session tickets have been sold out, according to a news release from the St. Louis (Mo.) Sports Commission.
Tickets may be purchased online at NCAA.com/Wrestling. St. Louis has become a popular site for the annual tournament, hosting it for the eighth time since 2000.
“I thank the sports commission and St. Louis and all the people from the NCAA for what they do,” Missouri Coach Brian Smith said. “This is an amazing event.”
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