Photo Credit: The Enquirer/Cara Owsley
His story received quite a bit of media attention. We caught up with Alex shortly after the media blitz to learn more about his collection. We were fascinated by the stories a he shared about his time at UC, his current work, and his advice for students and alumni. The second part of our interview with Alex will be posted tomorrow!
What made you want to attend UC?
I grew up on campus essentially, because both my mom and dad worked at UC when I was a kid. Because I was here so much seeing them, I got to know lots of different people and became familiar with the University before I was even in high school. Our family also went to a lot of basketball games, and I absolutely loved the atmosphere in Fifth Third Arena.
Starting around 9 years old, my dream was to attend UC and play basketball here. When I told other people I wanted to be on the basketball team, most of them laughed, or said I couldn’t do it. So I learned to keep that dream close, not tell a lot of others who may try to talk me out of it, and work extremely hard to get better and stronger every year.
You made the basketball team as a walk-on under Bob Huggins. What was that like?
Before I could try out or do anything like that, I first had to talk to Coach Huggins, and I was pretty nervous because he was one of the most well-known people in the city. I went to his office and said, “What do I need to do to play here?”
Coach Huggins said that I first needed to clear myself academically and physically, and then we would talk about my role and taking the next step. I think he thought it would take me a few weeks to get all the administrative stuff done, so I left his office around 2 pm. I came back at 5 pm with everything I needed in hand, and he was pretty surprised, because I’m sure a lot of people tried to talk to him about being a part of the team. That aggressiveness and work ethic was tremendously important, and it probably helped me make a good impression with him right off the bat.
After I had been cleared to play, I started working on improving my game. I attended open gyms with guys like Ruben Patterson, Terry Nelson, and Kenyon Martin, and I couldn’t even get in the games at first because they were so good. The team already had 10 guys and I was the 11th, and I was resigned to accept that I may only be a sub or bench player, if that.
So one day, someone sprained their ankle or got hurt, and I thought this might be my chance – but those guys were looking for anyone but me to come into the game! “Is anyone else around?” they asked and joked. Finally, I got a chance. I was extremely nervous and didn’t play too well but I felt like I had arrived.
Then I went down to the weight room to work on my conditioning. I got on the scale and weighed around 152 pounds. The strength coach looked at me and said, “Son, you’ll never play at UC.” My head sort of dropped because I thought my dream was over, but he said, “Son, when you leave here, you’ll weigh 196.” And I thought, I’ve never been able to gain weight or build substantial muscle – but I followed his program and worked hard – and ended up leaving the program at 198 pounds. That was another reason I feel I made the team: I may not have the skills that some of the other guys did, but I would work as hard as possible to get better.
How did you find out you made the team?
Well, after a few weeks of practices and weight room visits, it was finally time to begin the season with Midnight Madness, but they still hadn’t told me if I had made the team. They just told me to show up and see what happens. So I didn’t tell anyone about it, because I didn’t know if I’d actually make it or not! Only my mom, my brother and my roommate Sam knew I had been working out with the team, and so we all kept it quiet in case things didn’t work out.
That night, I walked into the locker room, and they have two sets of names on the board based on who was going to work out in front of the fans. My name wasn’t on there, so I thought it wasn’t going to happen and I didn’t make it. I tried to stay positive as we went out on the floor to do some sort of introduction, but I was pretty upset I didn’t see my name listed.
Little did I know that when we went back in, my name indeed was on the board, and they gave me a jersey and all my other supplies to play, right on the spot!
I couldn’t believe it, and to this day, there has been nothing like running through those doors of the locker room out to the floor for Midnight Madness knowing I was part of the team. Words can’t even describe how I felt running out on the floor. And since I hadn’t told anyone about it, I kept getting calls in the days that followed from people asking why I didn’t tell them I was doing this! But it goes back to the dream I had at 9 years old and keeping it away from people who would try to talk me out of playing basketball for UC – and realizing that dream in real life was awesome.
Look for more from our interview with Alex tomorrow!