By CHRIS LARICK
As a high school and college basketball player, Dan Coxon played with and against the best of the best. These days he is more likely to be dealing with the worst of the worst in his role as an FBI agent in Las Vegas.
Coxon, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on Apr. 8, was a key member of the 1993-1994 and 1994-1995 Conneaut Spartan squads that lost a combined one regular-season game. He, along with teammates Mike Pape and Tony Lyons, made up a trio of 1,000-point scorers, the only time in county history that has happened. Pape, who scored 1,166 points; and Lyons, who notched 1,026, are sure bets to join Coxon (1,065 points) in future years.
“Mike Pape (the inside force on the team) is perhaps the only player I know who had 1,100 points and 1,000 rebounds in high school,” Coxon said. “He was one of few freshmen who were physically able to be able to play at the varsity level.
“Tony played power forward, but he could shoot from the outside or do anything you asked. He was one of the best players who ever played at Conneaut. He was the sort of player who could do almost anything.”
Asked to describe his own role on the team, Coxon said, “I always had to guard the other team’s best player. I took pride in doing that.
“I tried to be the leader of the team, scoring was not my main focus, I tried to do whatever the team needed to win games. My coaches use to get mad at me for not shooting enough. I tried to be a team player and I was happy to have a lot of assists and steals. I was a two-year captain my junior and senior seasons.”
Coxon was also a first-team All-Ashtabula County and All-Northeastern Conference selection as a junior and senior and a second-teamer his sophomore year.
The Spartans were coached by Greg Mason when Coxon was a freshman and sophomore. When Mason fell into the bad graces of the board of education, Kent Houston took over the reins for his last two years.
“They were very different as coaches,” Coxon said. “Coach Mason was more in-your-face, a little more vulgar. Coach Houston was more by the book. They approached the game differently. Houston was much more structured than Coach Mason. But both were very good coaches.”
A basketball team needs more than three players and the trio of Coxon, Pape and Lyons had plenty of help, including Tom O’Connell, Chris Anthony, Jason Tharp, Nick Armeni, Joe Swigunski, Brant Kananen and Travis Hayes, plus, in their senior year, big Jeff Grubke.
“Everyone looks at Mike, Tony and I, but we had other contributors,” Coxon said.
The Spartans went 19-1 in 1993-1994 and 20-0 in 1994-1995, losing to a good Harvey team as juniors.
“I would say our biggest competition was Riverside and Harvey,” Coxon said. “At Edgewood, Ryan Ball had a good season my junior year, but most teams were not too much of a problem.”
The tournament was another problem. Coxon’s junior season the Spartans drew powerful Cleveland St. Joseph’s.
“We were outmatched. They beat us by 30-some points,” Coxon said.
The following year Conneaut took on Cleveland Benedictine, which zoomed to a big lead. When the game slowed down, the Spartans came back, only to be beaten by a point.
“Tony and Mike got in foul trouble,” Coxon said. “Unfortunately, we got beat by one.”
Coxon also played baseball his freshman year at Conneaut, but concentrated on basketball after that.
“It was the sport I loved,” he said.
Though he had dreamed of playing Division I college basketball, as a 6-foot-2 shooting guard Coxon wasn’t in that sort of demand. He reduced his choices to Division III Baldwin-Wallace and John Carroll.
“I developed a great relationship with John Steadman and Coach Moran at John Carroll,” he said. “I felt that was the place for me to play. It was close to home, so I went to John Carroll and was very happy. I’m a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame at John Carroll. We got to the Elite Eight (in the national tournament) my junior and senior seasons.
At John Carroll Coxon played the two-guard and a little small forward, with a bit of point guard thrown in. His senior season he averaged 17 points per game and led the team in assists.
“Making the Division III tournament was exciting,” he said. “I’m very fond of Coach Moran, Coach Steadman and John Carroll University.”
At John Carroll, Coxon took his degree in business finance, graduating in 1999. He student taught for a year, then went to work in Columbus for Lucent Technologies.
But he had always been interested in law enforcement and applied for the FBI in 2004. He was selected to go to FBI training at Quantico and has now been an FBI agent for 13 years.
“For the last 10 years I’ve been on the FBI Fugitive Task Force, a well-respected team in Las Vegas,” he said. “We deal with the worst of the worst — homicide suspects and robbery suspects.
“I couldn’t have chosen a better field than the FBI. I’m blessed to be part of it. Our fugitive team is a lot like a basketball team. We have 10 guys working together every day. We work well together. It’s a 24-hour-a-day job.”
Coxon is married to Stacey, from Parma. The couple has three children: Kinsley, a 4 1/2 year-old daughter; Kason a 2 1/2-year old son and Karter, an eight-month old son. Stacey is in food sales, specifically selling fresh European truffles, and deals with high-end chefs on the Las Vegas Strip.
“I’m honored that I was selected (for the ACBF Hall of Fame),” he said. “It means a lot to me. I know there are a lot of tough decisions. When I look back on my career, they were some of the best years I could have had. I wouldn’t change a thing. I think we could have won a state title, but we never quite put it together.
“My family, especially my mom and dad, Connie and Gary — I can’t thank them enough for all of their support. They never missed a game and it meant a lot. Also I'm grateful for my two brothers, Joe and Rob, who also were very supportive and always there for me. I was lucky to have a good network of family and friends. To this day, I’m still close to Mike Pape and Tony Lyons and other Conneaut classmates and former basketball players. I wouldn’t change anything.”