Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Prospect Profile: Joe Alexander

I got a chance to watch him play in the tourney and have come away very impressed. He always seems to make the right play and never takes a play off. His will to win and unselfishness are keys to West Virginia's success this season.

Read the NY Times piece and you will see what kind of player he is and why he would likely appeal to Chris Mullin on draft day. He's a gym rat in every sense of the word.


Birthday: 12/26/1986
NBA Postion: Small Forward
Class: Junior
Ht: 6-8
Wt: 230
College Team: West Virginia
Hometown: Mt. Airy, MD
High School: Linganore

NBA Comparison: Tom Gugliotta/Tom Chambers
Strengths: Talented wing player with a winner's mentality and high motor ... An above the rim athlete capable of highlight dunks and spectacular finishes ... Has a warrior's demeanor, unafraid of contact and likes to mix it up with inside guys and crash the boards ... Put on 20 lbs between his sophomore and junior seasons, and appears as though he could add another 15-20 without hurting his agility much ... The additional weight has made him much tougher finishing around the rim and muscling for rebounds ... Really excels on the glass where he uses his amazing leaping ability and tenacity ... Hustles and scraps for every loose ball, never lacking for effort ... Has a tremendous body as a big 6'8 forward with a long wingspan. Could even possibly play some power forward on the next level with additional core strength ... Good speed and quickness, gets up and down the floor very well ... Has excellent touch around the rim ... Has gotten a lot stronger in his upper body and is able to fight through contact to finish around the rim ... Does a solid job of getting to the line where his FT shooting has really improved: 80% ... His midrange shot (10-18 feet) has shown a good deal of improvement ... Has a polished turnaround jumper which he can hit going left or right ... Has improved in his ability to get to the rim off the dribble ... Incorporates a pretty jump hook and shows solid back to the basket aptitude ... Gets a fair share of blocks due to his length and leaping ability ... Developing a strong court sense, rarely in a rush or forcing things ... Has a great attitude and is extremely coachable ... Has the chance to be a special player as he appears to have a ton of untapped potential ...

Weaknesses: To really take his game to the next level he needs to improve his outside shooting ... He can knock down perimeter shots, and shows excellent shooting mechanics, but needs to develop better range and consistency ... Also needs to improve his ability to create off the dribble ... Ball handling ability while improved is still sloppy, and the root of his turnover problems ...Can be a little overeager defensively and leave his feet on pump fakes. Also can be foul prone. Must develop a little better discipline on D, although you gotta love his intensity level ... His lateral speed is just average for a NBA small forward, hurting him a slight degree defensively. Also should try to get a little lower in his defensive stance ... Needs to improve his consistency on a game to game basis. Seven single digit games is too many for a junior with his talent ... Can be a little too reckless flying around the rim, so he'll need to be careful about injuries with opponents upending him on drives ...
Aran Smith - 3/4/2008

From DraftExpress:

March 26, 2008

We’ve closely tracked the progress of West Virginia forward Joe Alexander over the past two seasons, watching him emerging from raw, unpolished athlete to a bonafide NCAA star. That’s what happens when you dominate the Big East conference tournament and then lead your team to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA’s, going through powerhouse programs like Duke and Arizona on the way. Now that the entire country has finally caught on, we’d like to take another look to see how his skill-set is developing and how he currently projects as an NBA draft prospect.

Physically, Alexander remains the same intriguing prospect he always was, standing 6-8, with a good frame, long arms and excellent athletic ability. What seems to be developing the most, though, is his mentality, becoming the unquestioned go-to guy of this West Virginia squad. The Mountaineers run a lot of isolation sets for him, and he’s look more and more comfortable asserting himself and putting his talent on display. He’s become nothing short of outstanding with his post-up moves on the low block, converting at an extremely high rate with his terrific turnaround jumper, getting to the free throw line at a solid rate, while showing great flashes of talent in many other parts of his game.

Skill-wise, Alexander remains largely a work in progress, although he’s clearly come a long ways from the player who averaged just 1 point per game only three years ago playing prep school basketball at Hargrave Military Academy. He relies heavily on his size, length, athleticism, footwork and smarts to create scoring opportunities for himself, be it from operating in the mid-range area, in the post, or from the top of the key. He’s not one of those super smooth, fluid players for whom everything comes easily for, his game looks largely self-made—mechanical to a certain degree. He’s at his best banking in mid-range jumpers while fading away off the block, but is also highly adept at facing up from 15 feet and using his quick first step and long strides to get to the rim off a single dribble.

Still not a player who can consistently create his own shot from the perimeter by putting the ball on the floor and beating defenders off the dribble, he needs to continue to work on his ball-handling skills to make the transition to playing on the wing full-time. He struggles changing directions in traffic when operating off the bounce, not quite able to always get all the way to the rim, which diminishes his finishing ability, which would otherwise be extremely strong due to his phenomenal leaping ability. Once Alexander is able to improve his advanced skill-set, he’ll likely be able to do a much better job showing off just how athletic he is. Unlike most NCAA juniors, his learning curve is still extremely steep (he only started playing organized basketball as a junior in high school), and because of his reportedly outstanding work ethic (as profiled exceptionally well by Pete Thamel of the NY Times today), he also has a fairly high likelihood of reaching his very high ceiling. The fact that he has a very good feel for the game, as evidenced by his nice assist rates, further support that theory.

As a shooter, Alexander has solid form—nice mechanics, coupled with a high release point—but he still doesn’t enjoy great accuracy from behind the arc, hitting just 11/40 on the season so far. He’s equally streaky with his feet set as he is off the dribble, going through periods where he can’t buy a bucket to being unstoppable from outside. He obviously still has a lot of work to do in this area, but clearly has plenty of room to grow as well. He’s pretty solid from 16-18 feet, though.

Defensively, Alexander has nice tools, including great size and length, and seems to put in a pretty solid effort, but there will be some major question marks about his ability to guard NBA small forwards at the next level. He struggles staying in front of quicker wing players already, showing average lateral quickness and footwork in the process, and thus gets beat off the dribble on a regular basis. He’s a little too stiff and upright in his stance, which does not allow him to contest quite as many shots as you’d hope within West Virginia’s zone. To his credit, he does play at the very top of this zone, often matched up against smaller guards, which probably makes him look a bit worse than he actually is here, but there will be big concerns regardless. His very nice timing, combined with the quickness in which he gets off his feet, makes him a decent shot-blocking threat, at 1.5 per game.

Considering the developments we’ve seen over the past month, including the rumors we’re hearing from various sources, it appears very likely that Alexander will be entering the draft when it’s all said and done. He still holds his draft card in hand as a junior, but seems to have a perfect mix of potential and current production to maximize his draft stock without taking the risk of not improving as much as expected next season. It’s pretty clear that he could use another season to hone his skills, and could probably even work his way into lottery discussions if he returns and has the type of season many envision him having, but there will be a lot on the line if he does decide to do so.

From NY Times:

Midnight Practice Prepares a Player for Prime Time
Coming out of high school in suburban Maryland, Joe Alexander could not entice a Division II program to offer him a scholarship. Now, as he finishes his junior season at West Virginia, he is suddenly confronted with the decision of whether to enter the N.B.A. draft.

The details of Alexander’s path from recruiting afterthought to breakout star are unique. He spent six years of his childhood in China and barely played on his prep school team. But the recipe he has used to rise to stardom is familiar — he has a work ethic so maniacal that one of his brothers refers to it as “unhealthy.”

That is what spurred Alexander to shoot at midnight in parks in Beijing, sleep in West Virginia’s basketball arena, and have his cellphone voicemail message say that he will not call back until the Mountaineers’ season ends.

“It needs to be understood that he’s been obsessed with practicing,” said Jeremy Alexander, one of Joe’s older brothers. “At times growing up, I didn’t really know him. He’d leave for 10 hours, go to the Y and pack a lunch. He has worked his butt off.”

He has combined that with an intellectual and quirky personality to become, along with Davidson’s Stephen Curry, one of the surprise stars of this year’s college basketball postseason.

Alexander entered the spotlight with a Hallmark moment, dunking on Connecticut’s Stanley Robinson in the Big East quarterfinals. That punctuated a breakthrough 34-point performance, made the rounds on the highlight shows and offered a window into his sharp wit.

“Are you a dunker?” Alexander asked a reporter. “Well, usually if you’re on a fast break one-on-one with someone and the game is not on the line, you wait for them and dunk on their head. That’s the unwritten code of dunking.”

Alexander will lead seventh-seeded West Virginia against No. 3 Xavier in a West Region semifinal of the

N.C.A.A. tournament Thursday. And it will be the most notable stop on a long basketball journey.

Alexander’s father worked overseas, so Joe and his family lived in Taiwan, China and Hong Kong for eight years. While in high school in Beijing, Jeremy Alexander remembers being out in a park with his friends at midnight drinking beer. All of a sudden, his friends heard a noise in the distance and wondered what it was.

“Don’t worry,” he told them. “That’s just Joe playing basketball.” With a laugh, he added, “By himself, of course.”

Be it in China or playing high school ball in the United States, Joe Alexander always had a ball in his hands. He would dribble in the school locker room for nearly four hours until volleyball practice ended and he could use the gym.

Arnie McGaha, who coached him at Linganore High in suburban Maryland, remembered Alexander trying to persuade the school’s athletic director to give him a key so he could use the gymnasium. As Alexander pleaded his case, McGaha recalled the athletic director finally saying, “Would you stop dribbling that ball?”

Both Jeremy, 24, and John Alexander, 26, played college basketball at Washington College, a Division III program in Maryland. Even they have had a hard time digesting just how quickly their brother has developed.

They said that growing up, they would physically dominate Joe, 21, forcing him to learn how to shoot over them and how to outsmart them. Jeremy said he remembered Joe rigging up a device out of paper clips and dental floss to shut off the light switch in the room they shared. Being the little brother meant working harder and thinking quicker.

“He’s very much a cerebral personality,” Jeremy Alexander said.

Both Jeremy and John were athletic enough to dunk in their primes. But neither sprouted like Joe, who grew to 6 feet 8 inches and has a YouTube clip in which he dunks from the free-throw line. But Joe Alexander’s problem had been that he was a late bloomer.

He had a solid high school senior season, and his desire to play Division I basketball drove him to Hargrave Military Academy, a school in Chatham, Va., usually reserved for top-flight prospects who need to improve their grades. Alexander’s academics were fine, but he needed better competition.

At Hargrave, Alexander said he averaged about 1 point a game but benefited from playing against future Division I players like Pittsburgh’s Sam Young every day. He admitted that he was too skinny to earn significant minutes, but he caught the eye of the West Virginia assistant Jeff Neubauer, now the coach at Eastern Kentucky, in a workout.

Most recruiting visits involve coaches trying to persuade players to go to their college. Alexander’s case was the opposite. Alexander, who ended up picking West Virginia over Tulane, told Neubauer that he was ready for the Big East.

“He was the most convincing kid that I ever recruited,” Neubauer said. “He said, ‘I want to play in the N.B.A.’ And he was staring right through me when he said it.”

Once Alexander got to West Virginia, things did not go smoothly. He barely played his freshman year, but impressed teammates by running up and down hotel steps during road trips to stay in shape. Last season, he averaged 10.3 points but faded down the stretch, scoring in single digits the last nine games.

Last season, he started sleeping three nights a week on a blue leather couch in the Mountaineers’ locker room. No sheets or blankets, just team-issued sweats. He figured out a way to unscrew the safety lights that hang over the pool table in order to make it dark.

Although he lives only a few minutes away in an off-campus apartment, Alexander likes to shoot by himself late at night. When asked why he sleeps in the locker room, he offered his favorite kind of answer — a simple deadpan one: “It’s close to the court.”

When Coach John Beilein left for Michigan after last season, so did the reluctance for his players to lift weights. Alexander transformed his body, and late this season his game followed.

Alexander now averages 16.8 points, had 22 against Duke in the second round and has scored more than 20 points in six of the past eight games. He attributes his increase in production to Coach Bob Huggins, who took over the Mountaineers in the spring of 2007.

“To be honest, he’s our friend,” Alexander said. “We don’t feel like we’re his employees or slaves or anything like that. He’s in this with us.”

West Virginia’s team has clearly taken on Huggins’s defiant traits. That would include the reserve guard Joe Mazzulla’s slapping the floor against Duke to mock a Blue Devils tradition, and Alexander’s wondering aloud which were the eight Blue Devils named McDonald’s all-Americans.

And while Alexander lacked the high school credentials, he is now on the cusp of the N.B.A., where scouts love his polished midrange game. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know what the right thing to say is. I’m happy you asked, but I’m not really thinking about it right now.”

He is happy to still be playing. From the Beijing park shootarounds to the locker-room slumber parties, that is all he has ever wanted.

Joe Alexander Dunk

Joe Alexander Helps WVU upset Duke

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