Kachine The Machine

BY JON FRANK | MARCH 31, 2011 7:20 AM

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To describe senior guard Kachine Alexander’s career in basketball as successful would be like describing Hamlet as a yarn about some prince.

In the basement of Alexander’s mother’s home in Iowa City — Jennifer Davis moved here with her daughter when the Hawkeye guard came to Iowa — is a room commemorating her career. Trophies, awards, and other memorabilia decorate the white walls.

There’s the Athena Award — an accolade recognizing achievement by female student-athletes in high school — which she earned her senior year. A large, colorful poster with Alexander front and center during her junior year in high school; back then, she wore a red jersey with No. 32. A ceramic basketball dated Jan. 5, 2011, when she eclipsed the career 1,000-point mark at Iowa.

Upwards of 90 testaments to Alexander’s career occupy this room. And above the headboard of her bed is a framed poster made by a fan during her high-school days with dollar bills inside: “Why use coins? We got Kash.”

“We had to leave some in the box,” Davis said about the memorabilia stacked in the basement.
The 22-year-old’s statistics do a pretty good job of supporting the trophy room’s central thesis: Alexander’s greatness in the sphere of Iowa basketball — 1,239 points, 910 rebounds, 339 assists.

The 5-9 guard is one of the greatest players to ever sport the Black and Gold.

But what lies beyond the numbers and the accolades?

Dedication, hardship, and a brilliant personality that made the Minneapolis native a staple for the teams she suited up for.

Rise of Kachine

In the late stages of Iowa’s 2011 NCAA Tournament first-round game, Alexander clings to Gonzaga’s point guard like a shrunken T-shirt. For every cut, for every step back, Alexander stays in front.

Finally the Zag player grows frustrated with the smothering defense and charges to the basket.

Alexander crashes to the floor as the lay-up misses its target. Before anybody can claim the rebound, Alexander is back on her feet, contending for possession of the ball.

This is by no means rare.

In any contest, Alexander will flop onto the court, sometimes 10 times in 40 minutes. She gets back up every time.

Alexander’s toughness goes back to infancy.

“If she took a tumble, I never ran and grabbed her,” Davis said. “I pointed at her and start laughing.
“She would look at me, and she’d start to laugh, and she’d get up. If she didn’t get up and she cried, then I knew she was really hurt.”

Her basketball roots go back to fourth grade.

That year, Davis asked her daughter what she wanted for Easter. The answer: a basketball. Along with the usual — Peeps, chocolate bunnies, and jelly beans — Kachine received a composite leather Spalding ball.

“I bought the basket and all the stuffing and put a basketball in it,” Davis, 59, said. “I handed it to her, and she just ripped everything open. And that is Kachine.”

Kachine didn’t eat the candy; she went outside to practice dribbling the ball. Two weeks later, she joined the team at Minneapolis’ Ascension Catholic School.

“She came home, and she said, ‘By the way, Mom: You’re my coach,’ ” Davis said.

Kachine had immediate success; at an early age, she showed signs of greatness. In sixth grade, she was benched after she single-handedly led the team to a 42-0 halftime lead — “demoralizing” the opposing girls, her mother said.

“She was always aggressive. I taught my daughter to be the best that she can be.”

Upset at the coach’s decision to sit her daughter, Davis spoke to the athletics director. They agreed to promote Kachine to varsity to play with seventh- and eighth-graders.

“My attitude was, ‘Go ahead,’ ” Davis said. “She can learn from them, even if she sits out.”

Two days later, Kachine was on the varsity squad. Her unorthodox jump to varsity paved the way for an unorthodox introduction to her high-school coach, Bob Lyons.

Lyons met Kachine during an open house for eighth-graders. Lyons set up a booth for any girls interested in playing on his team, the St. Benilde Red Knights. A curious and astonishingly bold Kachine, sporting a sweater with “Dr. D” imprinted on the back approached.

“Do you like playing defense?” Lyons asked.

Kachine went bug-eyed.

“[She had] the most confidence I’ve ever seen in an eighth-grade girl,” Lyons said.

During her years under Lyons, Kachine set a scorching pace in practice and never let her teammates slack off. In games, she scored points, pulled down rebounds, and terrorized opponents. She was on pace to be the team’s highest scorer in school history until she broke her foot during her senior season. The Red Knights were the top team in their conference with an 18-1 record and a favorite to win a state championship before the injury. But the team struggled to win without their star player.

Her absence demonstrated that Kachine was a keystone on her high-school squad. Her reputation as a high-impact player stayed with her.

Elite rebounder in the making

At the AAU level, Alexander honed her skills, and Drew Woods, her AAU coach, played a significant role. When talking with Alexander, it’s easy to gauge exactly how significant Woods was.

“He made me the player I am today,” she said.

That Alexander could execute what she learned from Woods as quickly as she did on the court is a testament to her dedication.

Despite her height (or perceived lack thereof, on some people’s part), she became the best rebounding guard in all of women’s college basketball this past season. She led all Division-I guards in rebounds per game with 9.5.

“The Pad” — a thick foam shield with arm handles, often used during football drills — helped Alexander post those statistics. Woods used the pad so Alexander could get used to battling near the base line, not a skill typically associated with a guard.

“He tried to push me out to the 3-point line, and if I didn’t fight back, I’d be past the arc,” Alexander said.

“If you weren’t on the block [near the paint], you were considered weak.”

In her four seasons as a Hawkeye, Alexander consistently employed the skills she learned from Woods years ago: no backing down, no giving in. If not for Woods, Alexander said, she would not be an effective rebounder.

“No matter who’s guarding me, I don’t go outside of the block,” she said. “It’s technique. A lot of people are surprised by my post skills. Coach Woods was definitely instrumental. He taught me so much.”

Hard lessons learned

The biggest setback in Alexander’s college career occurred during her freshman year. She was ruled academically ineligible for the 2008 spring semester;

Alexander said she missed class while traveling for a road game. Despite communicating with her athletics academic adviser prior to the absence, her professor never received the notification. As a result, she said, she was unable to submit a paper and consequentially received an F for the class.

Sitting out crushed her.

“She couldn’t eat. She couldn’t sleep well during that whole second semester,” Davis said. “It hurt me, because she was so depressed about the whole situation. But nobody would ever know outside of the household.”

The severity of the situation made Davis seriously consider pulling her daughter from school and transferring.

“I was angry at how things were done,” she said. “I really wanted her to leave, because this is not good. Because it’s [Alexander’s] fault, too.”

But the coaching staff saw Alexander mature.

“She really grew up a lot, because she realized you can’t talk your way out of something,” assistant coach Jan Jensen said.

Despite her ineligibility, Alexander made a concerted effort to keep in touch with the team. She showed up for practices and traveled to watch her team capture a Big Ten championship. She also took summer courses to make up the credit hours.

“I wouldn’t change one part of it,” said Alexander, who describes the experience as helping her to grow up.

Head coach Lisa Bluder applauded Alexander’s resolve.

“What I’m most proud about with her is sitting out that freshman year,” said Bluder, fighting to hold back tears after the team’s first-round loss to Gonzaga. “Coming back like that, that’s amazing. When you think competitor, you think Kach. That’s the first thing that comes to your mind, you know. That picture, that face.”

Post college

Alexander’s locker is crammed with files. A scholar of the game, she has compiled more than 120 scouting reports from teams Iowa has faced over the last four years.

Her jam-packed locker sheds light on a facet of her game that few people, outside of teammates and coaches, see: her basketball IQ.

“She could see the play two steps ahead of everybody else,” Lyons said.

Bluder said Alexander’s ability to decipher the opposition’s game plan came in handy on a regular basis, and she would often rely on Alexander as an informal coach.

Alexander hopes to put her innate basketball knowledge to use as a coach someday.

“It was my freshman year; I was just getting [to Iowa]. The first maybe couple practices, [Bluder] asked me, ‘Do you want to be a coach?’ ” Alexander said. “If you didn’t know that I wanted to be that, and you asked me, well obviously, I’m doing something right.”

But before Alexander pursues a career in coaching, she will try her hand at the professional level. DraftSite.com predicted that Alexander will be the 19th selection in the 2011 WNBA draft.

Whatever path the emotional leader decides to take, one thing is painfully clear — her absence will leave a gaping hole in Iowa’s roster.

“Replacing Kach is going to be tough,” Bluder said. “Replacing her rebounding, her defensive tenacity. It’s going to be tough to replace that spirit, you know, that competitive spirit.”

DI reporter Matt Cozzicontributed to this article.

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