Alexander Manhandling July

He didn't enter the summer evaluation period as the best player in the class, the best center in the class or even the best center in his own hometown.

And even at the end of the month, that's likely to remain the case.

But no one constructed a more productive start to the chaotic summer season than Cliff Alexander at the LeBron James Skills Academy. He transformed LeBron into LeBrawn, seizing control of the event physically and mentally.

Alexander's performances at Nike's flagship skills academy left an indelible imprint on July's opening days, setting the stage for the live period that began shortly thereafter.

From the moment a referee tossed the first jumpball into the air, Alexander stared down his opposition and commenced the shedding process. He didn't square off against a soft touch crew, either: The camp featured other elites such as Cheick Diallo, Myles Turner, Diamond Stone, Thon Maker, Goodluck Okonoboh, Ivan Rabb, Angel Delgado and Thomas Bryant.

But it was the Windy City tower who proved superior. Alexander easily overpowered his peers, establishing position on the deep block and forcing repeated fouls. He also scored on jump hooks, short turnaround jumpers and slick reverse layups — and lots and lots of dunks.

You could become aware of Alexander even while not watching his court. He threw down the most frequent and the most violent slams, sometimes punctuating them with a yell and sometimes opting for stone silence and a cold stare.

He also proved a defensive standout. Alexander cleaned up the defensive glass and blocked shots repeatedly, sometimes springing to life with so much force than a shot-taker would be knocked backward and down after a clean block.

One doesn't often witness elite big men visibly giving up due to an opponent's superiority, but Alexander's regularly scheduled skull-draggings elicited that exact response. The effect was similar to Amare Stoudemire performing his own dissection of the fabled old Nike Camp more than a decade prior.

And that's what makes the dynamic between Alexander and top-rated Jahlil Okafor so odd. Rarely do two elite players in the same class emerge from the same city — even in huge metropolises such as Chicago — and even more rarely do they emerge at the same position.

Back in the Class of 2004, Atlanta's Dwight Howard did get flanked by fellow McDonald's All-American center Randolph Morris, but the gap between those two players was far more vast than is the case for Okafor and Alexander.

The two behemoths teamed up in the same frontcourt this past weekend at the Peach Jam, but their Mac Irvin Fire squad wasn't able to advance past pool play. Two big guys with dominant playing styles are more prone to cannibalize than to complement, though certainly both reinforced their immense reputations.

Alexander's recruitment resides in that rarified air that's the sole domain of elites. Defending national champion Louisville along with Michigan State, Kentucky, Illinois, Kansas, Memphis and Arizona are prominently involved, and a series of visits will seal the deal for someone this fall.

But his ultimate legacy likely won't derive from his college achievements, no matter how substantial they may prove to be. Alexander bears the marks of a one-and-done player and potential high NBA lottery pick.

Don't expect the dominance to abate.


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