Cliff Alexander named 2014 Student Sports Mr. Basketball USA, Illinois’ first honoree since the 1999-2000 season and the first from Chicago since Kevin Garnett in 1995.
At last summer’s LeBron James Skills Academy, there was something noticeably missing as 80 of the nation’s elite players tested their skill against one another.
The July camp fell during a non-viewing period, which meant college coaches were not in attendance. Scouts and recruiting analysts pointed to that as the main reason the camp’s big men didn’t battle and bang as hard as they hoped for. But there was an underlying reason why the camp’s post players lacked the desire people in attendance were looking for — the presence of power forward Cliff Alexander of Curie (Chicago).
After a few practice sessions, it was apparent guards were hesitant to drive the ball inside for fear of a rejection by Alexander. Post players would rather take a pass than be the victim of one of Alexander’s powerful finishes around the rim. That power game and inside dominance carried right over to Alexander’s senior season, as he helped Cuie become a nationally-ranked club.
Alexander’s talent level and dominance among his elite peers in the interior, combined with his production for Curie, today earns him the 2013-2014 Student Sports Mr. Basketball USA title.
“It’s just an honor to be named Mr. Basketball USA and I’m very excited to be named player of the year.” Alexander said from New York as he prepares for the Jordan Brand Classic.
Alexander becomes the first Mr. Basketball USA honoree from Illinois since Darius Miles of East St. Louis High School for the 1999-2000 season. Miles was the third pick of the 2000 NBA Draft. The last from a Chicago Public School before Alexander was Kevin Garnett of Farragut in 1995. That year, Garnett, a future NBA Hall of Famer, started the prep-to-pros phenomenon that lasted until 2006 when the one-and-done era was ushered in.
Alexander, who will follow in the footsteps of 2013 Mr. Basketball USA honoree Andrew Wiggins and play his college basketball at Kansas, averaged 24 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shots per game for a Curie team that finished 24-2 on the court and No. 26 in the final Student Sports FAB 50.
Alexader had some signature games which helped his candidacy — 22 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks in a 66-62 victory over No. 13 Bishop Gorman, a 30-point, 12-rebound, five-block performance in a 73-69 win over a Montverde Academy team that finished ranked No. 1 in the nation and a 20-point, 14-rebound performance as the Dolphins beat No. 7 Whitney Young for the Chicago Public League title. The Montverde Academy game in particular displayed a level of individual dominance that no other interior player was able to match and immediately vaulted Alexander as the leading candidate as the playoffs approached.
The city title was later stripped from Curie — as was all 24 of its wins this season — and the forfeits could have derailed Alexander’s candidacy.
“Yes, I’m happy because that support could of easily stopped but people are still giving me what I’ve earned,” Alexander said. “We had a great season. I’m proud of how my brothers played this past season.”
In the final Mr. Basketball USA Tracker, Alexander tallied seven of the possible 10 first-place votes, with two going to Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor and the other going to point guard Emmanuel Mudiay of Prime Prep (Ft. Worth, Texas). Coming in second place in the final balloting was actually Stanley Johnson of FAB 50 No. 2 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), who garnered the most second place votes (6) and finished second to Alexander in total points, 93-79.
Okafor, last year’s Student Sports National Junior of the Year, put the heat on the Mr. Basketball USA panel by capturing his first Illinois Class 4A state title after rebounding from the on-court loss to Curie in the city title game and by playing admirably at the McDonald’s All-American Game and Nike Hoop Summit. It’s not as if Alexander player particularly bad (9 points, game-high 11 rebounds in the McDonald’s Game), but Okafor stepped up his game down the stretch after a lackluster regular season. Johnson also closed strong by leading Mater Dei to a 35-0 record, including a win over Whitney Young, and its fourth consecutive California major division state title.
Okafor was named the McDonald’s Morgan Wooten and USA Today Player of the Year and Illinois Mr. Basketball. Alexander, meanwhile, took home the Naismith Award and was named the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year over Okafor. Alexander has now added another prestigious honor as he prepares for his college and likely NBA career.
This honor could have easily went to someone else — particularly after Curie’s season engulfed in controversy at and following the city title game versus Whitney Young. It’s something not lost on the rather soft-spoken 6-foot-9, 240-pounder with a distinct power game.
“It means a lot because all three of them are great players and all of them had great senior seasons,” Alexander said.
For the all-time list of Mr. Basketball USA honorees, CLICK HERE.