OTTAWA, Ont. (August 12, 2022) -- When the Scarborough Shooting Stars open the 2022 CEBL Championship Weekend on Friday against the Niagara River Lions, Kyle Alexander will be ready.
After winning an NBA Las Vegas Summer League championship ring with the Portland Trail Blazers in July, Alexander would like to add another ring to his collection this summer.
“It was a really great experience,” Alexander said of his time with the Blazers organization in Las Vegas. “You’re playing everyday or every other day…I missed a few days at the beginning because I was with the national team, but [after Portland’s first game in Vegas], it was a really great experience.”
Those days he missed, of course, were the days where he was with the Senior Men’s National Team playing in the FIBA Basketball World Cup Americas Qualifiers in Hamilton, Ontario where Team Canada defeated the Dominican Republic 95-75 on Canada Day.
“At the end of the day, there’s nothing like representing your country,” Alexander said.
“To play with guys like Kelly Olynyk, Dwight Powell, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nickeil Alexander-Walker?” he continued. “Jamal Murray was there, Oshae Brissett, Luguentz Dort, a lot of guys were there [even if they weren’t able to play].
To be in that environment, you have to understand, I started to play basketball at 16. To get to a point where these NBA guys are in the gym and I've worked my way up to their level, and I’ve found minutes and I’ve competed… It’s still surreal to me. I’m so grateful and I feel so blessed.”
Unlike most of his national team and CEBL teammates, Alexander didn’t grow up shooting hoops in his yard pretending to be an NBA player. He was busy on the soccer field and volleyball court instead. Though he enjoyed the sports he played, he wasn’t head over heels for them so the ever-conscientious Alexander told his parents he no longer wanted to participate when he was in the ninth grade.
“I told my parents I didn't want to do anything and honestly the reason was because I wanted to save them money,” he said. “I was like, “I’m not in love with [these sports], so I didn't want to do anything.”
After moving on from soccer and volleyball, Alexander was without a sport until fellow Canadian and current San Antonio Spurs guard Josh Primo’s father called Alexander’s father and said the two should attend the Bobby Allen Skills Academy in Mississauga together.
Though Alexander’s love for the game came quickly, his skillset took some time.
“The first day I couldn't do a left-handed layup,” Alexander said laughing. “I kept jumping off the wrong foot and I kept smoking layups. [Allen] had to pause the drill and show me the footwork and I still couldn't get the footwork down. I was so embarrassed. I went home and pulled my sister’s hoop from the side of the house, kept practicing the footwork and I finally got it.”
Those early memories of working on his game are still crystal clear in Alexander’s mind.
“It sounds so stupid, but it was the first time I showed myself that, one, I have work ethic and two, I don't like being unprepared, and that is what has fuelled my basketball career to this point. I don't want to get to a game, a practice, a training camp or anything and have somebody that I'm competing against be more prepared than me.”'
Work ethic is what took Alexander from that skills academy to Orangeville Prep when coach Larry Blunt took an interest in the raw but determined big man.
“He saw me at the camp and saw some sort of potential in me,” Alexander said.
“I don't know what he saw,” Alexander said with a laugh, “but I did play for two years there. Playing with Thon Maker and Jamal Murray speeds up your process a little bit. Coach [Rick] Barnes came and saw some sort of potential in me and brought me to Tennessee. A lot of people took chances on me.”
Tennessee is where Alexander got hooked on winning.
“I love to win,” he said. “It’s something that was instilled in me in college. I love to win. I will do whatever it takes for my team to win. If we’re winning, I don't care if I have 20 points or five points. It’s always great to have a great game in a win, but you never want to have a great game in a loss.”
After Tennessee, Alexander played with the Miami Heat in Las Vegas Summer League in 2019, and went on to sign a two-way contract midway through the season. Unfortunately, Alexander went down with a knee injury the day after his contract was signed and ended up finishing the year with Fuenlabrada in Spain. He has spent the past two seasons playing in Spain, and recently signed on to play with Valencia next season. This summer, he’s been thrilled to be playing in the CEBL with the Shooting Stars.
Getting to play in front of family and friends has meant everything to Alexander after spending the past two years overseas. That Canada Day game in Hamilton with the Senior Men’s National Team was the first time his parents had gotten to see him play in person since college. It was also the first time older sister Kayla got to see him in the Canada uniform. As a Senior Women’s National Team veteran herself, Kayla had always told her brother how special it was to play for the national team. As his basketball career has grown, Kayla has been there for every step along the way.
“She’s one of the best people on this planet, for real,” Alexander said of his sister. “She just gets it.
“It’s awesome and it’s a little bit of a cheat code, because for real, I get my sister, who did everything before I had to do it, and even though it was the women’s game, she’s been through everything, so I can just call her,” he said. “A lot of guys go into this stuff blind, but for me, I just ask her. I’ve always been a step ahead because of that at least.”
When Alexander made the decision to go overseas to Spain, Kayla was the person he called.
“She prepared me for going overseas,” he said. “Mentally, I’ve been ready for everything before it has come to me and I think that’s been really helpful.”
Alexander credits his parents with the close-knit relationship he has with his two sisters and says that they are, without a doubt, their biggest fans.
“None of us are who we are without them,” he said.
Who Alexander is when he’s not on the court is a music aficionado who spends his time writing music, singing and making plans to learn how to play the piano. While Kayla is an illustrator and artist, his life is one that is immersed in music.
“I don't know who I am without music,” he said. “Ive linked bad practices and games in college with me losing my headphones. Music keeps me sane.”
What keeps him focused when he is on court is the dream of being able to play an NBA game in front of his father. That and fulfilling the promise that former coaches and mentors saw in the 16-year-old who was bricking layups left and right.
“I don't get to where I am without the grace of God, first and foremost, but also without a lot of patience from a lot of patient people,” Alexander said. “I started late and I had two coaches that took chances on me. The Miami Heat also took a chance on me, so you could say three. Though that didn’t work out in the end, I learned so much from them.”
Alexander is eager to expand on the topic and give proper credit to those who have helped him along the way.
“I don't think that I get to Organgeville Prep unless Larry Blunt takes a chance on me and says, ‘This guy has raw potential.’ First Bobby Allen takes me in and gives my parents a discount because he believed in me. Then Rick Barnes says I'm a project but I'm worth it because they think I can be a pro. And then the Miami Heat, my first year I got an NBA contract. Honestly, if I didn't get hurt, I think I would still be in the NBA. I'm very grateful for everyone who has given me a chance. I’ve gotten this far and I plan to keep going. So thank you to all of those people.”
This weekend Alexander will play in the CEBL’s Championship Weekend. This fall he will play his third professional season in Spain.
“It’s just crazy to me that I haven't even been in this sport for 10 years, to see how far I’ve come,” he said. “I’m just excited.”
Excited and just getting started.