Iowa senior Kachine Alexander plays hurt and tired.
But never scared.
Last spring when eventual NCAA runner-up Stanford was blitzing the Hawkeyes in the NCAA Tournament, Alexander stood her ground.
“She didn’t care who was on that floor, or who was wearing that uniform,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “She didn’t care where the game was being played at. … She was going to put on a show. And she did.
“It’s almost like Kash, when she’s presented with a challenge that would bury most people, she almost takes it up another notch. Which is pretty amazing. That’s what separates her from a lot of people.”
Alexander had a career-high 27 points to go with six rebounds, three assists and two steals that night. She finished the 2009-10 season with 15 double-doubles despite missing seven games with injury.
And despite playing with a stress fracture that had her down to a self-described “65 to 70 percent” of her normal self most of the season, Alexander earned first-team all-Big Ten honors and honorable mention All-American.
“She’s determined at whatever she does,” Alexander’s AAU coach Drew Woods said. “She’s a bubbly high-energy person. It’s like a constant high. She doesn’t need a Red Bull, it runs through her veins.”
Alexander begins her senior season with a chance to become one of the most decorated players in Hawkeye history.
She is among 30 players nationally on the preseason for the John R. Wooden Award. She is also among 25 players identified for the State Farm Wade Trophy Division I Player of the Year list.
“I don’t know,” Alexander said of the accolades. “Even now, I’m not as great as everyone else thinks. I appreciate it, don’t get me wrong. The feats that I have done to me are not that impossible.”
Alexander got her first basketball as the centerpiece of her Easter basket in fourth grade.
“I asked her what she wanted and she said a basketball,” said Kachine’s mother, Jennifer Davis. “I was like, ‘a what?’
“She ripped it open and went outside and just bounced it around. It was strange, because no one in my family played basketball.”
A few weeks later, Alexander surprised her mother again.
“I came home and I was like, ‘Mom, guess what, I’m going out for basketball,’” Alexander said. “And she was like, ‘OK,’ … she’s used to me doing crazy things.
“And oh, guess what … you’re going to coach.”
That night the two went to the library and checked out a lot of books about basketball.
Alexander was a quick study, and it didn’t take long for her to emerge on the court.
“I think sixth grade was kind of my turning point,” Alexander said. “We were beating the team 41-0, and the girls couldn’t get past half court. I kept stealing the ball from her. So they set me down and told me I couldn’t play anymore.
“My mom was not happy about that, so I had to move up to the next level.”
Shortly after that, Alexander began to play for Angie Woods, and then later Drew Woods.
“In a tournament in St. Olaf, we were losing by 10 when Kachine went out with an injury to her middle finger,” Drew Woods said. “It was busted, bleeding, and she was sitting on the bench getting it wrapped. The bandage was turning red.
“She went back in, scored 10 straight points, and we won by two.”
The injury was on her shooting hand.
“That kid has no boundaries,” Woods said. “If she goes wrong, she goes wrong at full speed.”
Prep to Hawk
On the first of four unofficial visits to Iowa as a prep at Benilde-St. Margaret’s in Minneapolis, Alexander slapped the open space on the wall in the Hawkeye lockerroom next to a framed photo of Crystal Smith.
Smith was the last Hawkeye drafted by the WNBA in 2006, and spent three years in the league.
“I told coach my picture was going to be right here. (Coach Bluder) was like, ‘We’ll, you can do it here,’” Alexander said. “It’s crazy, because now it’s a reality.”
Alexander started getting letters in eighth grade, but the attention was never overwhelming. In the end, she picked Iowa over Marquette, Minnesota, Temple and UW-Milwaukee.
“I wasn’t what I am now,” Alexander said, “Not even close. I came to Iowa as a defensive stopper. That was my thing.”
Bluder wanted Alexander primarily for that defense.
“We saw her and loved the way she played and went after it,” Bluder said. “Defensively she was so much further ahead than her offense. But I thought any kid that played that hard could help our team.
“But I like scorers. We never thought we wouldn’t develop her offensive game. It was just a matter of time before that would happen.”
A stress fracture in her foot cut short Alexander’s senior season at Benilde-St. Margaret’s and kept her from attempting to win back-to-back state titles. Coming off of rehabilitation, she wasn’t an impact player right away her freshman season with the Hawkeyes.
She played in just 18 games, averaging 12.1 minutes, 2.2 points and 2.9 rebounds per contest.
Alexander missed the final 14 games of her freshman season and wasn’t even with the team when they clinched a share of the Big Ten title.
She had not qualified academically.
“It was hard,” Alexander said. “I had class, class, class. I wasn’t eating right. I was tired. I had less energy. I didn’t want to do anything.
“I was so tired I didn’t focus as much as I should have. I had to figure out, OK, how can I fit in the time to eat or rest.”
Davis said a lot of it came down to miscommunication about one paper with one professor.
“The thing was, it was her responsibility,” Davis said. “She was very, very depressed after that. But she insisted on showing up at practices. When the team came back (from Madison, Wis.) she wanted to be there. My heart bled for her that day. This was her team, too.”
“Kash learned a valuable lesson there,” Bluder said. “If you really love something, you have to pay the price all the time. She learned a lot of valuable lessons that will serve her well the rest of her life.”
Alexander used the time constructively. When the team was on the road, Alexander was back in Iowa City working on her game.
“I was here in the gym,” Alexander said. “And I didn’t have all the stuff they were doing, because I couldn’t do it, so I was working on the things I could do. I got to work on me.
“When I was on the scout team, I could do whatever I wanted.”
Emergence of a star
The Hawkeyes graduated five seniors that spring, and the coaches told Alexander her role would be expanding a lot as a sophomore.
“Coach was like, ‘I hope you know you might be starting, and there’s something we need to work on,’” Alexander said. “I was like, ‘OK, what do we need to work on. Put it on paper.’ That’s what I did that summer.”
Bluder said they broke Alexander down to the very basics of offense.
“We went back to teaching her how to shoot, like you would a person just learning the game,” Bluder said. “She had all the fundamentals defensively, but she didn’t offensively. She didn’t shoot the ball correctly; her footwork wasn’t good.”
It was tedious, repetitive work, but Alexander did the time. All she did as a sophomore was become the first player to ever have two triple-doubles in a season.
Alexander averaged 10.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.
“When she had success, it just snowballed into her confidence,” Bluder said. “And a confident Kash can be a scary thing.”
Another five seniors graduated following her sophomore season, and suddenly Alexander was put into a new role — team leader.
“I was like, it’s my time to take over,” Alexander said. “It was still kind of a shock, though.”
At the start of her junior season, Alexander looked poised to break out and become one of the top players in the country.
In her first three games, she was averaging 21.0 points, 15.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. Then she went to bench with a stress fracture in her lower leg.
She missed nearly a month, seven games in total, and was never again 100 percent on the floor.
“I was at roughly like 65 to 70 percent,” Alexander said. “And toward the end of the season, that probably decreased. In the NCAAs, I was roughly at 25 percent.
“I wasn’t practicing. I was doing the things I had to do, and other than that, I was doing nothing. Looking back on it, I don’t know how I did it.”
Alexander did enough to help lift a young Hawkeye team to the Big Ten Tournament finals and the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“She had to play in that brace, which was cumbersome, and she couldn’t play as well,” Bluder said. “But even Kash at that amount was better than no Kash.”
Alexander had surgery after the season and is still recovering even with the season coming up.
Last go ’round
Iowa has an all-American campaign to let people outside of Big Ten country know about Alexander. The Hawkeyes return all their players, plus add more depth with players returning from injury.
Expectations are high, and no place higher than with Alexander.
“I’m happy, I’m sad. … I’ve got a lot of emotions about this season,” she said. “There are more emotions than I’ve ever had before.”
Alexander said her main goal is to improve every season.
“The sky is the limit for Kash,” Bluder said. “I really do think she can be a first-round WNBA pick. But now she’s got work to do.
“This is the potential. Let’s not fall short of that. Let’s work every avenue we can to make that dream become a reality.”
Her present and future may be on the court, but Alexander is also on track to graduate this spring. No minor feat considering where she was three years ago.
“That’s just determination,” Alexander said. “I’m not settling. I’m saying I messed up.”
The real fight may be whether her mom can get Alexander to wait and walk through the line to get her diploma.
“We’re still fighting about that, actually,” Alexander said. “I’m like, I’m not waiting three to four hours for 3,000 people. I’ll dress up cute with the dress thing and the diploma and you can take as many pictures as you want.
“Everyone’s like, it’s her only child and she only gets this chance.”
Who is going to win that argument over Sunday dinner?
“Kachine hates to lose. Hates it. She puts everything she has into it,” Davis said. “As a child, whenever she lost, she cried.
“And she still hates losing at home playing cards. She will sit there until she wins.”
Iowa opens the season Nov. 12. Alexander is digging in.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball