Cliff Alexander plays center for Chicago Curie High School. The powerfully built 6'-8" freshman isn't polished yet, but with his size and skills he is projected to be an excellent college prospect as he matures.
Alexander was unable to play during his team's games in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament in late December. His coach Michael Oliver explained why.
"He has a heart condition, and we didn't want to take a chance. Have the doctors look at it and make sure it's okay. He'll be fine."
Alexander is back playing with his team after treatment for his heart murmur. For a freshman, he is doing well according to Oliver.
"He's averaging a double-double for us and about five blocks. His job basically is to protect the basket. He's an intimidating shot blocker and defensive presence out there.
"We miss him when he's not there. We go from 6'-8" to 6'-2" or 6'-3". With the guys we have to play pressure defense, we have to have somebody to protect the basket."
Curie lost its first game of the tournament to Danville but came back with three wins to take the consolation championship without the big man. Still, they are better off with him back in the lineup. Their record improved to 19-1 January 17th with a four point win over Riverside-Brookfield. Alexander had 10 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks that game.
The young giant admits difficulty in playing against much older players.
"The players are stronger and more mature up here. I've been working on my game."
He was asked how his game compared with Jahlil Okafor, the 6'-9" Whitney Young freshman.
"He's a whopper ball player."
Oliver knows there is depth of talent in the 2014 class, but he believes Alexander compares favorably.
"He's right there with them. He has a long way to go with some of the things he needs to work on offensively. He's farther ahead on defense than offense right now. He's only been playing two years, but he's very skilled.
"He's real big, but he's got a lot of skills with the ball, and he has a nice touch around the free throw line. There are things we're working on to get him better. We want him to be a back-to-the-basket player."
Alexander was asked the aspects of his game he wants to improve.
"My ball handling, my post moves, my jump hook."
Oliver should be thrilled with the reminder his talented youngster still has over three years of high school ball ahead of him. But the coach tempered his reaction.
"Yeah. The problem in Chicago is we don't know how long we're gonna have him. With transfers and all these things, we don't know. But right now we've been pleased with him."
Alexander was asked what schools have shown interest in him so far.
"I don't have any offers yet. I'm hearing from Kentucky, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Miami, Duke, Wisconsin, and Illinois."