By LARRY VAUGHT
If you sometimes wonder why I enjoy going to Marshall County Hoopfest so much, let me take you back to December of 2014.
That was the first time I saw Jamal Murray play when he was with Orangeville Prep. A few months later he signed with Kentucky.
Murray had 32 points in a game against then UK recruit Malik Newman, who eventually signed with Mississippi State. Of course, Murray had a fabulous freshman season for UK and is now one of the rising stars in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets.
Also playing for Orangeville that year was Thon Maker, another future NBA first-round draft pick who had 19 points and 12 rebounds in that game. He was also being recruited by UK at the time. He was the 10th overall pick in the 2016 draft and now plays with Detroit.
But also on that Orangeville team was Kyle Alexander. He signed with Tennessee and is now a 6-11 senior averaging 8.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game going into Saturday night’s game at No. 5 Kentucky. He has now played in 122 games with 92 starts. He has 252 career offensive rebounds, 162 career blocked shots and is a career 60 percent shooter from the field.
“There’s no question we’re better when Kyle is playing his best basketball,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “There’s no question that when he’s at his best, we’re going to be in it with most teams we play against always because of what he does and the way he always affects the game.”
The Tennessee coach noted what Alexander did in Wednesday’s win over South Carolina when he scored 10 points.
“He’s 5-of-11 (from the field), and he probably should have scored a couple more. He got the ball knocked away from him. He looks for rebounds, he needs more of those. There’s no doubt about it. Having him on the floor, we need him. He’s the anchor of what we do, especially defensively,” Barnes said.
Alexander embraces what Barnes says about his importance to the nation’s top-ranked team.
“That means that it’s a challenge for me to play my best every night so that the team can get the most out of me. So I embrace it and I have to understand when I’m not playing that well,” Alexander said.