Cliff Alexander is a budding superstar. The 6'-9" sophomore led Chicago Curie to a convincing win against Champaign Centennial at Parkland College last Saturday. He scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in an impressive effort.
Curie coach Michael Oliver knows his star will be double-teamed. The key to his team's success is for his perimeter people to balance the attack.
"The key to Cliff being successful is, our guys have to hit open shots. They made a couple shots in the first half, so he was wide open."
Alexander normally has the benefit of a tall teammate who also takes pressure off him.
"The big kid Detalian Jackson we missed. He's about 6'-10". We like to say he does all the dirty work. He does the stuff Cliff don't want to do like mixing it up on the blocks and rebound.
"When both of them are out there together, it allows Cliff to freelance. Cliff is an athlete, and when he's freelancing he's very dangerous. He can play defense on the weak side, and he can clear offensive rebounds well."
Alexander is shy with the media, but he was willing to share his assets and things he needs to improve.
"I've got a midrange jump shot and can dribble a little bit. I need to improve on my dribbling and my jump shot."
Dunks are common, and Alexander runs the floor and blocks shots. Oliver believes he has practically unlimited potential.
"I tell Cliff the sky is the limit. He can be one of the guys we say, I don't want to say early, can make a good living playing basketball if he continues to grow. Cliff is one of the hardest workers we've got. He's the first one in the gym and the last one to leave.
"Two years ago, Cliff was mentioned as one of the top players, and he worked his butt off this summer. He's a good player.
"Right now, he wants to show everybody he can play on the perimeter. I keep telling him, 'You aint got to show them you can play on the perimeter right now.' That's the only problem he's got right now.
"Athletically he's quick enough to get out and contain the ball. He's quick enough to get up and down the court, and he's blessed with jumping ability."
The game was originally scheduled for the Assembly Hall, a much more exciting venue for high school players than a 2,000 seat junior college gym. Was Alexander disappointed with the last minute change?
"Yeah, a little bit. I like it here. It's a nice gym."
He was pleased with his game while admitting he could have done better.
"It was one of my better games. I give myself a 'B.' I could have had more rebounds. My teammates help me a lot."
Alexander definitely liked seeing Illinois coaches Bruce Weber and Jerrance Howard watching his every move. After one resounding dunk, he looked straight at Weber.
"I was happy, so I smiled at Coach Weber."
Illinois has had Alexander on campus, and he likes the program. But his recruitment is far from settled since more colleges are joining the list of suitors.
"Michigan State, Illinois, a bunch of Big 10 schools, DePaul. That's about it. I've visited Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, DePaul, Indiana."
Curie has an ambitious schedule that includes participation in a loaded field at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. Among the possible opponents is nationally #1 ranked Chicago Simeon. Oliver and his players hope the matchup materializes.
"We're looking forward to it. We gauge our season on how well we do at Pontiac. There are great teams there, and we normally do well. You see some of the best basketball in the state. You see different styles, and you see some well-coached teams. We learn a lot at Pontiac."