The prince of put-backs

InsideTennessee always gives you quality coverage of Vol hoops. Check out this story on a Big Orange freshman who made quite a splash in Monday night's Rocky Top League debut:

Tennessee signee Kyle Alexander may be basketball’s version of baseball’s cleanup man. Whenever a teammate misses a shot, Alexander cleans it up by scoring on a put-back.

At least, that was the case in his Rocky Top League debut Monday night at Knoxville’s Catholic High Gym. Alexander hit 11 of 15 field-goal tries en route to 25 points in helping DeRoyal Industries beat The Knoxville News-Sentinel 112-99. Five of his 11 baskets came off offensive rebounds, with two being thunderous follow dunks.

After just two seasons playing organized basketball, the 6-foot-10, 205-pounder from Orangeville Prep in Canada says his heavy reliance on put-backs is both by necessity and by design.

“I haven’t really been playing basketball that long, so my offensive game really isn’t there 100 percent yet, so I usually try to get most of my points off the offensive boards,” he told InsideTennessee. “I like to think of myself as the person who wants the ball most when a shot is coming off the rim.”

He certainly showed that Monday night, impressing DeRoyal teammate and former Vol standout Wayne Chism in the process.

“He’s got a lot of potential,” Chism said. “He’s long, he runs the floor and he rebounds the ball. He goes after the ball. Whoever taught him to look for the ball and go after the ball taught him very well because he goes after it. He’s very active.”

In addition to exceptional length and quickness, Alexander exhibits impressive stamina. He runs the floor unusually well, routinely beating opponents downcourt for fast-break layups and dunks. That’s a tribute to his soccer background.

“That helped a lot,” he said. “I played soccer for four years (ages 6-10), and I think that constant running and changing directions really helped me as I grew.”

Most 6-foot-10 guys quickly gravitate to basketball but Alexander’s transition to hoops was a surprisingly slow process. He really didn’t focus on the game until his junior year at Orangeville Prep.

“My mom always asked my dad, ‘Why don’t you make him play? Why don’t you make him play?’” Alexander recalled with a smile. “My dad always said he didn’t want to force me. He didn’t want it to be a chore. He wanted it to be something I loved.”

With his son looking for love in all the wrong places, however, the elder Alexander finally enrolled him in a basketball academy two years ago.

“It was taking too long, and he told me I wasn’t using my height or my athleticism,” the son recalled, “so he put me into a training camp.”

The strategy worked.

“I love it now,” Alexander said. “I’m happy that my dad put me into it.”

Two years later Alexander finds himself on the threshold of a college basketball career in the Southeastern Conference. He admits that adjusting to the heat and humidity of Knoxville is a challenge after growing up with Canadian cold. Adapting to the physicality of the college game has been difficult, as well. Giving away 30 pounds to 6-foot-9, 235-pound News-Sentinel center Ray Kasongo, he was outmuscled a few times Monday night.

“He’s very physical; he’s a big guy,” Alexander said of his fellow Vol rookie. “He made me realize I’ve got to get in the weight room a bit more and get some mass.”

Except for three free throws, Alexander scored all of his points within three feet of the basket. He jacked up a couple of 3-pointers, however, just to show he has some range.

“I’m no Kevin Durant but I’m pretty comfortable (from 3),” Alexander said. “I’m working on that. I have a good percentage from there, so I like to take a couple per game just to get the feel.”

Joining Tennessee after a year of junior college ball, Kasongo has major advantages in heft and experience. Still, Alexander outscored him 25 to 13 Monday night and probably outrebounded him by a similar ratio.

“It was fun,” the slender freshman said. “In practice we really go at each other, so it was really interesting and really fun to have an in-game experience and a chance to battle against each other and see what each other could do.”

Kyle Alexander needed just one game in the Rocky Top League to show what he can do once he gets some muscle on his spindly frame.

“That’s going to help him a lot,” Chism said. “He’ll look like (NBA star) Dwight (Howard) at that time — big, wide shoulders. Running the floor like that, he’s going to be a force on the inside.”

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