Oct. 21, 2010
Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Friday, Aug. 13, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2010-11 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Even in defeat, Kachine Alexander makes the women’s basketball world take note. During a second-round loss in the NCAA Tournament last March on Stanford’s home court, Alexander scored 27 points with six rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot. Her halftime point total (16) was four more than Connecticut scored in the first half against Stanford 15 days later in the national championship.
“America took notice,” University of Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said of her star pupil. “A lot of people saw her play and they understand what Kachine means to our team and how unbelievable of a player she is. I’ve always said that I believe she is one of the most exciting women’s basketball players in America and I’ll stand by that.”
The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) agrees. In early August, Alexander was named to the 25-member “Wade Watch,” which selects the Division I Player of the Year. More recently, she has been named to the John R. Wooden Award preseason top 30 list.
In 77 career games, Alexander has scored 791 points with 615 rebounds and 81 steals. Last season as a junior, when she was named honorable mention All-American by the WBCA and the Associated Press, Alexander led the Hawkeyes to a 20-14 record by averaging 16 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.6 steals.
“Whether it’s a scrimmage, summer league or practice, it’s all the same to me,” Alexander said. “I go full speed. I only have one speed and that’s what sets me apart from a lot of people. There is not a play I give up on and that’s probably why I have so many rebounds, because a lot of people might give up on those loose balls, but I’m not going to.”
While Alexander shines even in Hawkeye losses, those setbacks have been few and far between since her arrival in Iowa City. In the last three years, Iowa has compiled a record of 62-36 with 36 league victories and three consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament.
“Whether it’s a scrimmage, summer league or practice, it’s all the same to me. I go full speed. I only have one speed and that’s what sets me apart from a lot of people. There is not a play I give up on and that’s probably why I have so many rebounds, because a lot of people might give up on those loose balls, but I’m not going to.”
As a freshman, Alexander played 18 games before academic issues sidelined her for the second half of the season. She watched on the bench while the Hawkeyes won 11 of their final 15 times and advanced to the NCAA Tournament in Norfolk, Va.
“It made me mentally stronger,” Alexander said. “You still have to practice, you still have to go to home games and sit in street clothes and watch your team on TV, and the person I am — I don’t like to not play. To keep a positive attitude knowing you were preparing for someone you were not going to play was hard, but it made me stronger mentally than I was before and made me grow up a lot quicker.”
Alexander started all 32 games as a sophomore, posting averages of 10 points and 8.8 rebounds. Not only was she named the team’s most improved and best defensive player, but Alexander received second-team all-Big Ten recognition from league coaches and third-team by media. Last season Alexander was named first-team all-Big Ten by the coaches, second-team by the media and one of five players named to the Big Ten all-defensive team, even though she missed seven games with a stress fracture in her right leg. Before the injury, Alexander was averaging 21 points and 15.7 rebounds.
“I want to improve every year,” Alexander said. “I have improved every year and I want to keep doing that. Everybody asks, `How can you top that year?’ and I tell them, `There are plenty of ways.’ I know where I can be and I know where I can get to. I have the drive, so anybody can tell me anything and I’ll get it accomplished. That’s how I am and I take that to heart.”
Alexander says her senior year is “filled with goals.” One is to become the school’s 27th member of the 1,000-point club (she needs 209 points); another is to make a fourth-straight NCAA appearance and this time advance to at least the Sweet 16; a third is to pry the league’s MVP award away from Ohio State senior center Jantel Lavender.
Nothing accomplished by Alexander will surprise Bluder, who has yet to coach a consensus All-American at Iowa. The last two-time first-team all-conference Hawkeye was Alexander’s former teammate, Kristi Smith, in 2008-09.
“Kachine sets the bar for enthusiasm and she sets the bar for effort and work ethic,” Bluder said. “She is such a good example for the younger players. You always have high hopes for your recruits that they’re going to do great things, but I don’t think you could ever expect this type of level out of Kachine. We were attracted to her when she was in high school because of the same things we’re seeing today — the hustle, the enthusiasm she plays with, the passion for the game and the all-out effort. She has taken her game to another level in college.”
After her sophomore season, when she made two 3-point field goals, Alexander set her mind on becoming a more efficient outside shooter. A year ago, she made 18 from behind the arc.
“When I came on my official visit I pointed to the (WNBA) plaques in the locker room. I said, `My name is going to be right there, coach Bluder, right here; right next to Crystal Smith.’ I was so serious, I remind her all the time, I’m not kidding: Kachine Alexander, 21, wherever I go and the years I played here. I’m so serious.”
“To go from shooting 17 percent to 34 percent (from 3-point range) is a big jump,” Alexander said. “I remember coach telling me before the year she wanted me to shoot 30 percent and I looked at her like she was crazy. It’s all about confidence. I have the tools to be able to do it, but if you believe it’s going to go in, most of the time it will. I’ve put in the work, I’ve put in the effort. To be a threat where the defense can’t sag off of me is exactly what I want.”
When an opponent defends Alexander on the perimeter is when you’re likely to see her strength: driving to the basket. During her career, Alexander has scored 36.5 percent of her total points (289) from the free throw line. The past two seasons she has averaged 6.1 free throw attempts per game.
Alexander graduates in May with a degree in recreation management, but her immediate future could include a professional career in the Women’s National Basketball Association. That is something she predicted on her recruiting trip.
“When I came on my official visit I pointed to the (WNBA) plaques in the locker room,” Alexander recalls. “I said, `My name is going to be right there, coach Bluder, right here; right next to Crystal Smith.’ I was so serious, I remind her all the time, I’m not kidding: Kachine Alexander, 21, wherever I go and the years I played here. I’m so serious.”
Alexander’s name is becoming synonymous in college women’s basketball circles with the term double-double. Twenty-four times in her career — and 15 times in 2009-10 — Alexander finished a game with double-figures in points and rebounds. It’s appropriate that her favorite professional is Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, another nightly double-double threat.
“Everyone tries to bring (Rondo) down,” Alexander said. “They say he can’t shoot, he can’t do anything, blah, blah, blah, but no matter what, he’s still effective. That reminds me of myself. I may not be a point guard, I may not be the best shooter in the world, but I’ll knock them down when I need to.”
If the Hawkeyes are leading a game, accumulating points is secondary to Alexander.
“As long as we’re winning, I don’t care about scoring,” she said. “Rebounding is something I really take pride in.”
At 5-foot-8, thanks to determination and a knack to anticipate, Alexander led all players last season in rebounding in Big Ten-only games (11.1 per game).
“It goes to show you everything we preach about rebounding,” Bluder said. “Most of it is heart.”
Being the best rebounder in the league won’t satisfy Alexander this season; that label is too restrictive. Being the best overall player in the Big Ten Conference has a more suitable ring.