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“Really what sets [Cliff] Alexander apart is the freakish athleticism,'' recruiting analyst Joe Henricksen said. | Patrick Gleason/For Sun-Times Media
Cliff Alexander’s dunks send shockwaves through the gym. The raw strength and power reverberates around the rim, the backboard, the support beams and the walls of the structure. The act is that much fun to watch, the single greatest high school basketball dunk show since Ronnie Fields was playing for Farragut.
Adjectives cannot properly describe the Curie big man’s all-around performance this season. Alexander is a true spectacle, a dominating force the likes of which the Chicago area is unlikely to see for another generation.
Imagine Eddy Curry’s size and strength with Tyson Chandler’s athletic ability. Then add an aggressiveness and raw power that neither player has ever displayed.
At the Pontiac Holiday Tournament last month reporters from all over the state sat slack-jawed watching Alexander average 27 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks over the four games.
His game against West Aurora was one for the ages: 37 points, 26 rebounds, five blocks. He shot 17-for-25 from the field.
“It was one of the most impressive, most dominating big-man performances I’ve ever seen at the high school level,” recruiting analyst Joe Henricksen said.
Young’s Jahlil Okafor is the defending Sun-Times Player of the Year and top-ranked player in the country by most of the national evaluators. He is in the midst of another tremendous season, but he can’t match the awe-inspiring moments of violent power and athleticism Alexander demonstrates.
“Alexander right now is a more physically dominating player at the high school level,” Henricksen said. “But [Okafor and Alexander’s] games are very different, they impact games differently. Okafor is underrated in some areas like passing.
“Really what sets Alexander apart is the freakish athleticism. The physical body projects so high. That athleticism is just not something you see in a high school big man. It’s so rare to find and something Okafor does not have.''
Alexander, a 6-9 Kansas recruit, had a rough start to the season, with the hat trick debacle on signing day and then the two technical fouls in the St. Rita game. Those incidents have given him an undeserved bad reputation. In person, he’s soft spoken and friendly. His attitude and kindness toward several dozen local autograph-seeking kids won over the local crowd at Pontiac, which is comprised of staunch Illinois fans. Alexander won the tournament’s sportsmanship/MVP award, the AC Williamson.
After the display against West Aurora, Alexander wouldn’t discuss player of the year awards or national rankings.
“I’m proud of my team,” Alexander said. “My guards stepped up real big.”
Most Illinois fans probably won’t ever forgive Alexander for the hat trick, but the rest of the area needs to appreciate this rare opportunity to watch an NBA-ready big man on a high school basketball court. It won’t come around again any time soon.
Alexander and Curie have a huge game against North Chicago in the Bob Hambric Shootout at T.F. North on Sunday. It’s the featured matchup, capping off two days of high-quality hoops in the south suburbs.
“I’ve watched Curie three times on High School Cube,” North Chicago coach Gerald Coleman said. “They are a very talented team with the Stamps brothers (Josh and Joseph) and Cliff is gonna be Cliff. We won’t change a lot of what we do.
“Alexander is amazing. He’s very physical, hungry for the ball. He knows how it is coming off the rim. I’m watching teams box him out and he’s still getting there.”
North Chicago captured the championship at the State Farm Holiday Tournament in Bloomington. The Warhawks don’t have an answer for Alexander, but will counter with their “Big Three” of JaQuan McCloud, JaVairius Amos-Mays and Kurt Hall.
“We are about right where I wanted to be this time of the season,” Coleman said. “They remind me a lot of our team that finished second in the state, but this team is way more talented. When we play teams like Curie they play at a whole different level. My guys are excited about it.”
At T.F. North
Saturday, Jan. 11
Harlan vs. Leo, noon
Dunbar vs. Crete-Monee, 2
Marshall vs East Chicago (Ind.), 5
Mount Carmel vs. T.F. North
Sunday, Jan. 12
Bogan vs. T.F. South, 12:30
Lincoln-Way North vs. St. Joseph, 2
Hyde Park vs. Providence-St. Mel, 5
Curie vs. North Chicago, 7:30