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January 6, 2012

Fox making the most of unexpected opportunity

Before the season even started during his first press conference of the year, head coach Doc Sadler made an eyebrow-raising statement regarding one of the more overlooked players on Nebraska's roster.

Talking about wanting to expand the Huskers' lineup rotation to start the season, Sadler said junior walk-on forward Mike Fox was one player fans should expect to see a bit more of because of the progress he'd made over the course of the off-season.

"I'll tell you right now, one of the guys that's going to play is Mike Fox," Sadler said back on Oct. 31. "We have found in the past to be able to use and undersized guy, but he's much more athletic than Ryan Anderson was. He defends probably a little bit better and shoots it as well. So we can find a place for Mike."

Little did Sadler or anyone else for that matter know how big that place that would actually be for the Beatrice, Neb., native.

Fox has appeared in nine of NU's 13 games this season, playing an average of six minutes per outing. With only eight total points and two rebounds, his statistics reflect those of nothing more than a typical bench player, but that doesn't tell the real story of Fox's role for the Huskers.

It's been when he's gotten his minutes that has made him a much more important piece on Nebraska's roster. As injuries have started pile up for the Huskers, Fox has checked into games earlier and played longer as the season goes along.

Since the start of Big Ten play in particular, Fox has been one of the first players off the bench and provided quality minutes against some of the best big men the conference has to offer.

In Tuesday's loss to Ohio State, the 6-foot-4 Fox played a career-high 12 minutes and at several points found himself matched up one-on-one against the Buckeyes' All-American center Jared Sullinger.

"I've always thought that I've been capable of playing at this level, but you're never ready to go up against the Jared Sullingers and Draymon Greens," Fox said. "It's fun, but it's tough at the same time… Afterwards, it kind of sinks in. I was talking with some other people last night and talking about guarding Jared Sullinger, and that doesn't happen to a Nebraska kid that often. So that's the fun thing about it, just being from where I am to where I am now, it's just kind of surreal sometimes."

Obviously the biggest reason Fox has been able to ascend up Nebraska's rotation this far along in the season has been due to injuries to centers Jorge Brian Diaz (feet) and Andre Almeida (knee).

While Fox's opportunity certainly didn't come under the most ideal of circumstances for the Huskers, Sadler said he's glad Fox has been able to step up and help when called upon in a tough situation.

"I'm happy for Mike, and I'm glad he's getting the chance to maybe play some, because he's a great kid and he works hard and he's everything that this program wants guys to be about, but let's be real - it's not my ideal situation that he's getting to play," Sadler said. "But he is, and he's taking advantage of it."

Fox came into the season weighing just under 200 pounds, but said he's made some noticeable gains in the weight room under new strength and conditioning coach Tim Wilson, which has helped him better compete against the big bodies of the Big Ten.

He also said the speed of the college game has slowed down considerably since his freshman season, which he credits to going up against teammates like Toney McCray and Brandon Ubel every day in practice.

The Huskers are still hopeful to get Diaz and possibly even Almeida back this season, but until they do, Fox should continue to play a role for NU this season.

"It's fun being out there, but at the same time I know I'm playing because Jorge's not out there and Dre's not out there," Fox said. "I'm really trying to take advantage of the opportunity given to me… I'm still going to practice like I always do. Playing time is not a big deal to me. Yeah, it's fun, but at the same time we still want to win games."



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