Alexander Impresses In Debut

I don’t want to get too carried away with Cliff Alexander’s delightful performance against Washburn during Kansas’ 85-53 rout in its opening exhibition game at Allen Fieldhouse Monday night.

I don’t want to get too carried away with Cliff Alexander’s delightful performance against Washburn during Kansas’ 85-53 rout in its opening exhibition game at Allen Fieldhouse Monday night.

After all, I know Washburn is an outmanned and vertically challenged Division II team with its tallest player only 6-8.

But after watching Big Cliff record a game-high tying 14 points (6-8 FG), nine rebounds and three blocks in just 17 minutes, I couldn’t help wonder if I had just witnessed the second coming of Thomas Robinson, or dare I say, a poor man’s young Karl Malone.

I know it’s only one game, again against a small school from Topeka, but the freshman showed me some signs that he is indeed the real deal and why NBA scouts are already salivating over this bruising 6-8, 240-pound power forward prospect.

The Chicago native immediately made an impact upon checking into the game with over 15 minutes remaining until halftime. He showed a nice touch with a fallaway jumper on the right baseline before quickly responding with two offensive rebounds for put-backs.

Alexander was rolling from there, scoring 10 points the first half on 5 of 6 shooting.

He was pleased about his first game in a Jayhawk uniform.

“I felt good going into the game,” Alexander said. “Coach (Bill Self) told me to come out and play my hardest, and that's what I did.”

Did he ever.

He scored, he rebounded, he blocked shots, he ran the floor with a purpose, he went after the ball with a passion.

And he only committed one foul the entire game. Only one when Self told the media last Friday that he was “worried about Cliff because I think there's a chance that he could surpass Jeff Graves in the quickest five fouls in the history of KU basketball, or whoever one of our biggest foulers were.”

Alexander talked about how he stayed out of foul trouble.

“Just by walling up, playing great defense in the post and moving my feet,” he said.

The big man admitted he “had the butterflies going into the game,” but “loosened up when the game started. They (nerves) weren’t that bad. I dealt with it pretty good and just tried to keep my mind off it.”

Alexander’s teammates and Self praised him afterwards.

“Cliff was great the first half,” sophomore guard Frank Mason III said. “He got in, got offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds and he even scored inside. He was a big plus tonight.”

Self agreed.

“Cliff had a good line,” Self said. “... He goes after the ball pretty good and he's becoming a better outlet passer and doing some good things that way. I'm getting the confidence in him to have him in there because he tries so hard.”

Alexander, who missed a large part of summer workouts with a sprained ankle, is indeed trying hard and progressing just fine. Despite his great play against Washburn, Alexander knows he’s still a long way from reaching his potential.

“It hasn’t even started yet,” he said. “I think by the end of the season, I could potentially reach my peak.”

And what would that be?

“Better post moves, getting stronger and a consistent jump shot,” Alexander replied.

His first big test will come soon against No. 1 Kentucky and its powerhouse team of McDonald’s All-Americans on Nov. 18 in Indianapolis. So I’ll try not to think about the Robinson and Malone comparisons until after that game, when myself and the college basketball world gets a glimpse of where Alexander is right now as a player.

Self, though, knows the freshman has a chance to be very special.

“I think Cliff has done great,” Self said Friday. “I just think he needs a lot of reps. Him being out the whole summer didn't help him at all, and so he's a little bit behind just with simple things, whether it be pivoting or being able to fan the ball out of the post, just things that he's never had to do because he just caught it and just mauled people in high school, and you can't do that obviously at this level.

“... But when he gets it, he's going to be really good.”


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