The Times West Virginian

June 6, 2009

HERTZEL COLUMN: Alexander learns from rough rookie year with Bucks

By Bob Hertzel

MORGANTOWN — Joe Alexander could run and he could jump, yet when he went from West Virginia University to the Milwaukee Bucks as their first round selection in last year’s NBA draft he had to learn to walk again.

He quickly learned that about the only thing that’s the same in the pro game and the college game is that the ball is round.

“It’s a bigger step to go from college to the NBA than it is to go from high school to college,” Alexander admitted as he returned to town to take part in Bob Huggins’ second annual Fantasy Camp.

Those who remember Joe Alexander, the freshman under John Beilein, remember that he was not what you’d call an instant success. He played only 10 games and his high game was just five points scored against Washington & Jefferson. As athletic as he was, he was behind because of a childhood in China and Taiwan where his basketball progress was retarded by a lack of instruction and competition.

He rode his amazing athletic talent through Lingapore High School in Mt. Airy, Md., good enough to have his No. 20 uniform retired this year, and into WVU.

But once here he had trouble adjusting to Beilein’s restrictive system and did not blossom until his junior season under Huggins, who coerced the best out of Alexander and guided him into position to become an instant millionaire … a millionaire who says he still hasn’t spent any money and continues to drive the same car he drove in college.

Well, Alexander may have become a professional by signing a contract but he quickly found out that there is more to professional basketball than just playing for an NBA team.

“The biggest difference is that when you are a professional you take ownership of yourself and your career. It all involves exceeding expectations,” Alexander said.

He could run and jump with anyone in the league. Not outrun and outjump them, as often he could in college, but he was their equal, but still he found himself sinking into the quicksand for exactly the same reason he had a slow start on his college career.

“I was far behind,” he said. “They were so much more experienced that I was. They were doing crafty veteran tricks.”

It wasn’t quite like he found players standing on his feet when he was about to jump or grabbing hold of his shorts as he was about to cut, but the game was just totally different.

“In the NBA basketball is a game of chess. It’s not a track meet,” he said.

Those who watch it from the outside, even those who are great college players, see only the track meet, the end to end action and the physical skills.

But considering that everyone has those skills — some like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant more than others — it becomes a mental game.

That changes everything.

“Everyone is talented. You have to be sharp,” Alexander said.

The result was that he did not start well and finished averaging only 4.7 points a game, but he did seem to grow late in the season.

It was, shall we say, a learning experience, as it is with almost anyone who is out there on their own for the first time, playing against LeBron James as he scores 52 points.

“If anyone says he did that I’ll deny it,” Alexander joked.

Now he reflects back on that first season, he believes he can benefit from it.

“I think about the things I can build upon,” he said.

The biggest thing is the life of an NBA player.

“Life is very different,” Alexander said. “I have no obligations. My only obligation is to make certain that I become a good player.”

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.