The Times West Virginian

June 13, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN: Alexander waits for next shot

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — In this what-have-you-done-for-me lately world of ours, we are enraptured with the heroics of Da’Sean Butler from last basketball season, heroics that led the West Virginia University Mountaineers to the Final Four.

Indeed, Butler’s season-long performance was magical, if one with a sour ending as he lay crumpled on the RCA Dome floor in the final nine minutes of his career with a knee injury as Duke destroyed WVU.

His performance was so strong that he was being mentioned as WVU’s best player since the immortal Jerry West, and it really wasn’t a stretch to do so. However …

On Friday night, as Butler was being followed around by an independent film group doing a documentary about him, there was another player who had returned to the Bob Huggins Fantasy Camp, a contemporary of Butler’s and, we might add, a player who may not have had the season-long run that Butler had but who was every bit as good and even more spectacular athletically for a brief period of time.

Alexander The Great was back in town.

It was almost as though Joe Alexander has sneaked in the back door, coming to work at the camp, meet and greet the campers, show them how to improve their game although completely unable to impart any of the natural ability that had turned him into a national sensation through the final 10 games of the 2007-08 season.

Starting on March 1 of that season, Alexander literally soared to heights seldom seen in Morgantown. Perhaps the greatest leaper ever to play at the school with a flair for doing the impossible, Alexander closed out the regular season by literally taking a really strong Connecticut team that included Hasheem Thabeet, Stanley Robinson, Jeff Adrien, A. J. Price, and Jerome Dyson apart twice.

At the end of the regular season he threw in 32 points against the Huskies with 10 rebounds, then followed that act up in the Big East Tournament with a career high 34 points with seven rebounds and 12 of 22 shooting.

Through those final 10 games, Alexander averaged 23.2 points a game which included the entire Big East Tournament and two-game run in the NCAA that ended with a heartbreaking overtime loss to Xavier.

It was a heroic month from a heroic figure, a kid who had spent much of his youth in China, who had returned to the United States far behind in his basketball development, who grew to 6 feet, 9 inches and who had seemingly supernatural powers to soar through the air.

He had become lost in John Beilein’s system, but found his basketball legs under Huggins and became good enough to be drafted in the National Basketball Association by the Milwaukee Bucks, only to suffer through a run of injuries that ended up with him being moved to the Chicago Bulls and his contract not being renewed, leaving his career up in the air, which is actually quite fitting when it comes to Alexander.

“Joe, Get a job,” his father, Stephen, recently suggested to him, only part in jest.

“He didn’t want me laying around on the couch thinking about things,” Alexander admitted during a break at the Huggins Fantasy Camp.

Certainly there is much occupying Alexander’s mind these days and very little he can do about it, a rather hopeless feeling.

It is a dead period for free agents as the NBA plays out its finals, Alexander picking Boston, by the way.

He is in Chicago, working out daily, getting ready to go to camp next year and impress someone, although at present it is uncertain which team that will be, or even if it will be in the NBA. He certainly didn’t get much of a chance after moving to Chicago, scoring only four points in eight games.

 It isn’t a question of where he wants to go, for he must first wait and see who has any interest in him.

“I’m just sitting around and waiting,” he said. “That’s pretty much all I can do. No one can really talk to me now. I’ll have to wait until July.”

His lack of success in the NBA to date should carry an asterisk, for those spectacular leg muscles that allowed him to soar to such heights have been injured throughout his NBA stay, keeping him grounded.

“I thought I had made pretty good improvements from my rookie to sophomore year,” Alexander said. “I was really excited to showcase what I had done all summer. It was unfortunate that it was taken away.”

The Alexander who flew so high in college has not had an opportunity to show what he could do in the NBA, almost as it was at WVU when he had so much trouble adjusting to Beilein’s style of ball and then flourished under Huggins.

“The unfortunate part is, I haven’t been able to show it to anyone else,” Alexander said. “I know in my head what I can do. It’s been frustrating not being able to translate it on the court as of yet. I feel good about my future.”

The time will come when Alexander learns just what the future holds. He has too much talent not to be given another chance to see what he can do if he is injury free.

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