Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Alexander continues pursuit of greatness at WVU

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Joe Alexander is a traveling man.

In the past he’s called Mount Airy, Chatham, Va., Taiwan, Hong Kong and Beijing home. No matter where the current West Virginia University Mountaineer resided two things never changed: The rim is 10 feet high, and there is always room for improvement.

In his junior year with the 15-5 Mountaineers, Alexander has developed himself into one of the premier talents in Big East Conference basketball.

‘‘The most important thing in my continuing development is the same thing in my past development, a strong desire to get better,” he said. ‘‘Without that you’re not going to go anywhere as a player.”

Alexander has not followed the typical path to big-time college hoops prominence. He spent six years of his youth living abroad before returning stateside as a high school junior at Linganore. During his senior season he helped propel the Lancers to the 2003-04

Class 3A West Region title and was recognized as The Gazette Player of the Year. Following graduation, he spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy (Va.) before enrolling at WVU. During his career with the Mountaineers, Alexander has gone from a 1.3 scoring average, to 10.3 points per game, to his current state line of 15.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per contest.

Each portion of the journey brought with it different challenges and benefits. Competition and coaching were often hard to come by in China, so Alexander spent his time developing individual skills and workout habits. At Linganore he became re-acclimated with the American game and learned what it took to win big games. Playing at Hargrave really opened the then 6-foot-5, 180 pounder’s eyes. Every practice was illustration of what it took to compete in the Division I game.

One person who’s had a front row seat for the now 6-8, 225-pounder’s ascendancy is current Frederick High and former Linganore head coach Arnie McGaha. The longtime instructor instantly recognized the high school junior’s potential and remains in touch with his former pupil today.

‘‘He was raw, thin, and somewhat undeveloped as a junior but his work ethic and desire just shot him up the charts during our time together,” McGaha said. ‘‘He was in every way the definition of a ‘gym rat.’ He had a ball in his hands all the time and once even asked our athletic director at Linganore if he could have a key to the gym so he could get in at odd hours.”

Before his senior season at Linganore, Alexander sat down with McGaha to discuss his future. McGaha knew he could play for any Division III program but wasn’t ready for Division I ball. Together they went to workouts and met with coaches before opting for prep school and another year of development. Alexander’s progression at Hargrave and WVU is no surprise to his former teacher, who is confident he can go farther in basketball.

‘‘Talented players make coaches look good and Joe certainly did so for me,” McGaha said. ‘‘He was very easy to coach. I have always likened Joe to a sponge. He just tries to absorb as much about the game as he can. His development and the likelihood of him playing professionally is tribute to that.

‘‘I would think the clearest evidence of him being coachable is the fact that he has played for three different coaches since he graduated [from Linganore, one at Hargrave and two in his three years at WVU] and continued to dramatically improve each year.”