In nearly any endeavor or social dynamic, no one wants to be the other. Getting relegated to secondary status bruises the ego and halts ambitions, and never does that situation prove more cruel than when the relegated one is oh so close to the top.
Such has been the basketball scenario in Chicago. Cliff Alexander is considered the other elite senior big man in the city, behind consensus No. 1 Jahlil Okafor. And while the two can be considered friends to some extent — they teamed together for the Mac Irvin Fire on the EYBL circuit — Alexander at times has hinted at resentment toward his assumed secondary position within that relationship.
Who could blame him?
Alexander enjoys national top-five status in the Class of 2014 yet is not even No. 1 at his own position at home. That has to burn a little.
But the tide may be turning, at least in terms of how the duo's talents are framed. I still view Okafor as the slightly better prospect due a more diverse scoring package, but it's very close and pending review upon the spring postseason.
Alexander certainly has made a case that the widespread assumption about Okafor's superiority is misguided. Although the one-on-one matchup versus his rival failed to materialize in last weekend's city final, his Curie squad defeated Whitney Young to claim Chicago's top prize.
He also achieved greatness outside the context of Windy City action. Alexander scored 24 of his 30 points in the second half to lead Curie past No. 1 Montverde (Fla.) Academy at the HoopHall Classic. He starred at other high school tournaments as well and impressed with his prolific stats as well as his consistency.
He remains primarily known for his power and aggression. Bill Self's Jayhawk program emphasizes toughness and offensive balance, and Alexander should fit in masterfully at Kansas. He's a savage dunker and ferocious rebounder who hardly coasted on his reputation this season, instead playing as hard as ever to prove he's among America's very best.
To take that next step, he'll need to incorporate new offensive wrinkles. Most of what he does — on both ends of the court — occurs at the rim, and while the attitude is welcome he definitely lacks the seasoning he'll need to star in the future. Alexander is so physically dominant that he may not require much polish to excel in college, but in the NBA he'll need improved post footwork as well as a serviceable face-up jump shot. Those areas loom as his primary challenges going forward.
Nevertheless, there's no player in the senior class who has it all. In that regard, Alexander has emerged as a legitimate challenger for the No. 1 overall ranking and will have another two months to prove he's the man. He may not yet have earned the status, but he has earned the consideration.