This is a story every aspiring athlete should read. It is a story about taking your opportunities and understanding that you are a person, not just an athlete.
Life is about taking the opportunities that come your way. In the case of Kayla Alexander that is how she got into basketball. Up until the age of 12, Alexander had been active with swimming and running track, but was never into basketball.
What changed at 12? Her friend Nicole asked her to come to a basketball tryout with her. In Alexander’s words, “I was terrible.” She had athletic ability but no basketball skill or IQ. Fortunately for anyone who watches the San Antonio Stars, she found some people who believed in her and taught her the game we all love so much.
The first person was Coach Monique Kovacs, who is quite a realist. She told Alexander “I can’t teach height but I can teach you the game of basketball.” Kovacs, with the help of Keith Macey, developed Alexander’s skills in her early basketball years.
However, it is not just coaches who get all the credit in Alexander’s eyes. The support of her parents, who drove her everywhere, supported her and practised with her in the driveway was crucial. They paid for everything but showed Alexander a tough love while also encouraging her. On top of this, Alexander’s siblings – especially her sister – were instrumental in helping build up her confidence. “She always believed in me and they were both always my biggest cheer leaders,” she said. For Alexander, family was the difference between making it as an athlete and not.
Alexander then attended the University of Syracuse on an athletic scholarship. She continued to grow as a player, eventually leaving as the all-time leader in six categories. However, some of the greatest learning she did while in college was about herself. In high school and early college, Alexander was tying her identity to her sport. It is easy to do: when the team was winning, she would feel great. When the team was losing and she herself was playing poorly, Alexander would doubt herself and her abilities.
It is incredible to think this beautiful soul would only see her value when she was playing well. Fortunately, Alexander had an epiphany where she realised that sport has its ups and downs. Imagine the thought process where if your sport gets taken away somehow, you would have nothing.
Fortunately Alexander found another pillar to support her life, her faith. Something that struck me about Alexander when I was blessed enough to communicate with her was the unquenchable spirit she has. When I asked her about this, Alexander’s reply was. “I am nothing without the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ! I am the child of a King. I am wonderfully and masterfully made with a purpose. We all are!”
Once Alexander realised this, it was impossible for her identity to stay tied up in basketball. She still loved the game but it was no longer about how she played for herself, it was about using basketball as a platform to glorify and praise Him. Instead of potentially taking the game and her talent for granted, Alexander began using the opportunities given to her by basketball for His will.
All of the hard work and faith was rewarded for Alexander when she was chosen by the San Antonio Stars with the eighth pick in the 2013 draft. However, there is a big jump from college to the WNBA. For three seasons, Alexander would average around three points and three rebounds per game.
In her fourth season, Alexander broke out somewhat and averaged eight points and four and a half rebounds per game. The 2017 season will be one to remember for the Kayla Alexander fans of the world. Her numbers were down a bit, 6.2 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. The difference was the hard work Alexander had put in was paying off when she was entrusted with the starting centre position.
In her fifth year in the league, Alexander was given just her second start in her career. In 30 minutes, Alexander would respond with 19 points (career high), six rebounds, three blocks, three steals and two assists. On the same night Kayla McBride would go for a career high 31 points and the Stars beat the highly favored New York Liberty. My favorite part of the night, though, was when I found out Alexander’s mother had come to watch.
Only God can orchestrate something like this. When you go from only five minutes the last game, to starting the next game, getting a career high and winning, when your mom just happens to be in town! How do you not give God the glory in that?
Alexander was given the starting role for the rest of the season and in that time the Stars went 5-5. To put this in context, they only won eight games for the season. This is one of the glimmers of light Alexander talks about when playing for the Stars. In her five seasons with the Stars, they have never had more than 16 wins. The last three seasons they have only won 22 total games.
However, Alexander is so positive about the future of the Stars. “We have so much talent here … one day it is going to click and when it does, it is going to be exciting.” The talent is nothing short of amazing for this young team. Isabelle Harrison, Moriah Jefferson, Kelsey Plum, Alexander, Kayla McBride and Dearica Hamby are all growing together. When it clicks, the WNBA is going to know about it.
It is her positivity and faith which has allowed Alexander to get through these tough times. She is more than a day’s drive from her amazing family and misses out on so many of her family’s milestones. One of the bigger things Alexander has missed out on because she has to be away from her family is she has never seen her brother Kyle play live at college level, he is now starting his junior year at Tennessee. When I asked Alexander how far she thought he could go, without hesitation she said “with the right work ethic, anything is possible.”
It is worse when she is overseas. She is currently playing in Asia where the only way she has contact is through technology. Fortunately, Alexander loves to travel and loves to experience new cultures, but she always has time to stream some of her favorite church services online.
However, what a lot of people may not know, Alexander is a passionate and gifted artist. She always has a sketch pad, pencil and an eraser when she travels. This allows her to escape and relax so that basketball is not the centre of her world day and night, even when she is on the other side of the world. What I love is Alexander has managed to combine her passions by starting #StarSketchSeries where she illustrates each of her teammates. You can watch all the episodes on her website.
Whether it is through basketball, family, art, faith or learning, Kayla Alexander shows any young athlete how important it is to be true to who they are. From the way she carries herself on and off the court, #40 for the San Antonio Stars is a role model.