The basketball was flying back toward midcourt, its flight path redirected by the wide, racquet-sized palms of Cliff Alexander. Emporia State’s Terrence Sardin had driven hard into the lane and attacked the basket. And there stood Alexander, Kansas’ 6-foot-8 freshman forward, ready to swat it in the other direction.
Moments later, Alexander followed the play, sprinting down the middle of the floor. Kansas guard Frank Mason flipped the ball toward the rim, and Alexander corralled the pass before flushing a one-handed slam. Alexander flexed his biceps and pointed at his chest. Allen Fieldhouse came to life. Kansas coach Bill Self flashed a wide smile and leaned back in his seat.
It was midway through the second half on Tuesday night, and Kansas was on its way to a 109-56 victory over Emporia State, a final exhibition blowout before the lights come on for real on Friday night.
“When the popcorn is popping,” Kansas sophomore Brannen Greene said, “it’s a little bit different. It’s not the same as practice.”
Alexander and his young teammates are still learning the intricacies of the Kansas system. And this was partly why Alexander, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds in 13 minutes, was the last Jayhawk big man off the bench Tuesday night.
“I think those other (big) guys probably deserved to play,” Self said, “at least on the last couple of practices.”
To hear Self tell it, Alexander has much to learn. But then there are stretches like that one in the second half, when Alexander throws down four dunks in 2 minutes to spark a 33-11 run. And this much becomes clear: At some point, it will be probably be hard to keep Alexander off the floor.
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