Thursday, July 3, 2008

Alexander making bucks with Milwaukee

Linganore alum is eighth player selected overall in NBA draft

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Former Linganore High standout and West Virginia forward Joe Alexander was selected in the first round of the NBA draft last Thursday by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Welcome to the world of Joe Alexander.

The former standout for Linganore High and All-Gazette Player of the Year from 2004 became slightly more well known as the Milwaukee Bucks first-round draft pick on Thursday, June 26.

A lot will be expected of the 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward. As the first pick under new head coach Scott Skiles, he’s now the face of the Bucks. And with the No. 8 pick overall in the draft, he’s the highest-ever draft pick from Frederick County.

But you might not have guessed this from the post-draft party.

There, Alexander was surrounded by his family and friends, both from college and from Linganore High. He invited up his high school coach, Arnie McGaha, as well as his brothers and some of their friends.

‘‘At the after-draft party, he might as well have been at a high school graduation,” McGaha said. ‘‘He’s still incredibly grounded.”

Over the past month, he’s quickly become a national media sensation, with dozens of outlets turning him into the main story of the draft.

It technically started back in the NCAA tournament, when Alexander led West Virginia to an upset of Duke and a near-upset of Xavier.

There was the obsession with his meteoric rise up the mock draft boards, especially when the mockers realized he was one of 15 players that did not have to work out at the Orlando camp.

Alexander mania reached its fever pitch when he was invited to the draft’s green room. And with that, his voice mail on his cell phone has become overloaded.

‘‘Chances are, I’m not going to hear your message for about a month,” Alexander’s voice mail warns, before suggesting that you text him instead. It’s his preferred communication for friends now.

At a showcase in Las Vegas, they had the team run an offense that had at least a passing similarity to what McGaha ran with the Lancers. Alexander sent him a text, letting his first coach know this.

‘‘I’m sure it was more complicated than what I was running, but that’s just simplistic Joe,” McGaha said. ‘‘He’s just so happy to be playing basketball.”

The constant buzz around Alexander was his work ethic. It’s hard not to notice it in a kid that played in one of McGaha’s summer camps when he was in fourth grade before moving to Beijing.

He returned stateside for his junior year of high school, and took over the Lancers his senior year.

‘‘He was such a skinny kid. For me, it was just getting him acclimated to playing,” McGaha said.

His lack of size and statistics prevented his immediate jump to a Division-I school, so he spent a year at the Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. And he kept improving each of his three years at WVU.

There are also the jump shoes that he worked out in, bought for him by his mom, Ally Alexander for Christmas. He credits them for his 40-inch vertical.

He was a gym rat at WVU. Once, when the power went out while he was practicing, he drove his car down a ramp to light the court with his headlights and finished his workout.

And in the days leading up to the draft, his work ethic was described as tireless, relentless and even maniacal.

It was just the thing that sealed the deal for John Hammond, the general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks.

‘‘We talked about trying to get people that were going to play hard every night, people that were going to be willing to compete,” Hammond said.

‘‘We think he typifies all of those factors. We know what we got in this guy, we got a guy that was going to come to work every day and play hard.”

Alexander will be the face of the retooled Bucks, who also traded away last year’s No. 6 overall pick in Yi Jianlian, a forward from China.

In return, they got Richard Jefferson from the Nets, who Hammond also described about a hard worker.

It’s all part of a plan of changing the culture in Milwaukee under first-year coach Skiles.

‘‘Finding a guy with a high level of mental toughness is very important for where we are right now,” Skiles said.

‘‘Not only is Joe a good player, but we really feel that he has those attributes that make him very appealing right now.”

At a press conference introducing Alexander to Milwaukee, it was confirmed that he visited twice with the Bucks before the draft. This is not a normal occurrence for players, as agents generally advise against showing favoritism to teams.

‘‘That’s why I came back,” Alexander said. ‘‘In the draft process, just like teams eliminate players that they don’t want, players can eliminate teams that they don’t want. You don’t go visit a team initially if you don’t want to be there, and you certainly don’t go back and visit a team if you don’t want to be there.

‘‘I think that’s a strong indication of how I felt about [Milwaukee].”

Alexander said that the Bucks were a good fit, especially considering that he felt Skiles and WVU head coach Bob Huggins had similar coaching styles.

‘‘I wouldn’t be in the league today if it wasn’t for Coach Huggins coming to West Virginia,” Alexander said. ‘‘I compared them because Coach Huggins told me that, and I’ve learned to trust Coach Huggins, for the most part.”

After all, Huggins was quick to tag Alexander at an NBA-grade player.

‘‘He said that to me after my first individual workout,” Alexander said.

‘‘I was just throwing down a lot of dunks, not just by myself but on my teammates. I think he saw that I was really passionate about the game, that I wasn’t just going through the motions.”

And now Alexander is fulfilling a goal that he set for himself in fifth grade.

‘‘Obviously, I didn’t know much about life at the time, I was 10 years old at the time,” he said.

‘‘All I knew was that my older brothers were really good at basketball, and the highest level of ball was the NBA, and I figured they were going to be there. I wanted to be better than them. It’s as simple as that.”