As the storybook on Kellie Harper officially closed last April, a new era has been born for the Missouri State Lady Bears.
Enter Amaka Agugua-Hamilton, also known as Coach Mox.
When Harper departed to take over as the head coach at Tennessee last spring, Agugua-Hamilton was hired shortly after and became the Lady Bears eighth head coach in program history.
“It is a blessing, honestly,” Mox said on media day. “To be my first job in a place where there is so much support — we get fans and community support. People want to know what is going on with the Lady Bears.
“We have great players, not just talent-wise, but character-wise. I honestly think it is like a perfect situation anybody would be lucky to have.”
And she is more than ready for this opportunity, according to her peers.
“Not only is she ready, but she is equipped with the foundation of everyone she worked with that is going to support her through this to help her understand — her wings are equipped to fly,” Buffalo head coach Felisha Legette-Jack said, who Agugua-Hamilton considers one of her biggest mentors.
Mox hasn’t even coached a regular season game yet, and she’s already made history.
She is the first African-American female head coach for any sport at Missouri State, and she brings extensive playing and coaching experience at the Division I women’s basketball level to the table.
Mox started her collegiate career at Hofstra University, where she was a four-year letter winner and three-year captain. She first crossed paths with Legette-Jack when she was a sophomore at Hofstra.
Legette-Jack, who took over as the head coach in 2002, vividly remembers the young Mox.
“She was a great jumper and had this great body that you could mold to become whatever it is supposed to be,” Legette-Jack said.
In her first season at Hofstra, the team struggled mightily, winning only eight games.
“We were just awful, but we played hard,” Legette-Jack said. “We brought in more pieces to the puzzle, and she was just so bought-in to what we were trying to become. She was just a major support person for me.
“As my first job as a head coach, you need somebody to buy in. It is really awesome when you have one of the better players on the team raise their hand and join us on that search for greatness.”
Mox earned her bachelor’s degree in business management from Hofstra in 2005. She went on to become a graduate assistant at Virginia Commonwealth.
After receiving her master’s degree in sports leadership and administration in 2007, Mox spent the next three seasons as an assistant coach at VCU, helping the school to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2008.
A year before, Mox lost her mother to breast cancer, six years after the diagnosis.
That was when Legette-Jack stepped back into her life. Mox reunited with her college coach at Indiana in 2009.
“She did a tremendous job,” Legette-Jack said. “One thing I loved about Amaka is she was ferociously organized to the point where not only did we know the recruits we were recruiting, but we knew where they fit in two to four years out, and we knew everything about them. I thought we would be together forever, and then she decided she wanted to be closer to home.”
Mox found herself not too far from home as an assistant at Old Dominion, but her first long-term coaching job began at Michigan State in 2013 where she spent the last six seasons.
She said she always knew she wanted to be a head coach someday, but there were life-altering things she put ahead of that. She got married to Billy Hamilton, and the two had their first son in April 2018.
Mox said she had several opportunities over her career to be a head coach, but she was just waiting for the one that was the right fit.
Through the journey up the coaching ranks, Mox said she has taken many things away from each coach she’s worked under, from Legette-Jack to Beth Cummings at VCU and Suzy Merchant at Michigan State.
Each school was different. Each coach had different philosophies, but for the first time, she is looking to mold her own philosophy at Missouri State.
“I have experience at pretty much all levels,” Mox said. “I know what it takes to play on that level and play in the NCAA tournament and compete against those teams. I’m like a sponge wherever I go and whatever I do — if I’m in a high school practice and I see a drill I like — I might ask the coach about it. I think everybody can help everybody and you can learn from anybody.”
Legette-Jack likened Mox getting the opportunity at Missouri State to having a daughter land the job she always dreamed.
Legette-Jack also said Mox has all the qualities to evolve into one of the best coaches in the game with traits like sturdiness, organizational skills and ability to relate to young student-athletes.
“She can sell ice to eskimos,” Legette-Jack said. “Missouri State has got a diamond in the rough and a person who has been ready for three years. If the community can support her through the tough times, I think she can emerge as someone who can take the program even further.
“Missouri State has been to a Final Four, but I think Amaka can take them to the last dance.”