The big fella isn't supposed to keep making you say, "Wow!"
But Cliff Alexander does.
Alexander has ignored the notion that big men develop at a much slower pace. Ha! His player development acceleration from December to July has been at warp speed. But still, the Curie big man's progression as a player has to slow down at some point, right?
Just when you think he can't get any more impressive or dominating as a high school player, Alexander surpasses what you think he is as a player and prospect. He's always improving, showing something new, turning more heads.
"It's just scary," Alexander's AAU coach, Mike Irvin, said in a discussion with the Hoops Report this past weekend about his progression and dominance. "He's playing at a ridiculous level, just dominating everyone."
At last week's Summer Jam in Milwaukee, Alexander went up against 6-11 Myles Turner out of Texas, one of the top 10 prospects in the country in the Class of 2014 on Wednesday night. On Thursday, he faced Sports U out of New Jersey, which boasts the 1-2 inside tandem of 6-9, 230-pound Quadri Moore and 7-1 Karl Towns, Jr., who has committed to Kentucky. Alexander was clearly the best player on the floor each game.
He headed back to the Chicago Summer Jam in Highland, Ind., over the weekend. There he swatted shots, cleaned the glass, rebounded out of his area, beat guards down the floor, threw down electric dunks, splashed in jump-hooks and, at one point in a game on Saturday, knocked down three straight jumpers from 15-17 feet like he was playing a game of H-O-R-S-E. That's a different type of basketball animal when you watch that and see the body and athleticism he's blessed with.
One thing has remained the same with Alexander over the past 12 months: Cliff has continued to be an enormous prospect. What hasn't remained the same is his overall game and mindset. During that stretch he's evolved more than I could have ever imagined he would in both areas.
Alexander wants to dominate -- and not just in spurts only to impress. He wants to dominate every time he steps on the floor. And he now has the tools to do so well beyond his thunderous dunks.
As a college coach mentioned to me while watching him last weekend, "Everything Cliff does projects to the next level. ... Every part of his game."
What's most impressive -- or what you have to like the most -- about Alexander is he just loves to play, whether it be with his high school teammates at Curie, his AAU friends with the Mac Irvin Fire or with his boys at the park or in the neighborhood. Where there's a game being played, you better believe Cliff Alexander is going to be there. He doesn't sit out games, take a weekend off from playing. He just laces up those Nikes. He loves to play and, because of that, he's been rewarded: as a result, Alexander just keeps getting better and better.
Big Cliff is clearly better than he was six months ago. He's better than when the Curie season ended in a loss to Whitney Young in March. He's better than he was two months ago, a month ago, or even last week. He hasn't yet begun to level off.
Where will he be 12 months from now?
Over the past two years all the "greatest big man in Illinois prep hoops history" talk has centered around Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor. When debating the best true 4/5 men in Illinois prep history, Alexander most definitely needs to be included with Okafor.
Alexander and Okafor are the best big men prospects the state has produced since Eddy Curry of Thornwood. Forget the post-high school Curry, his overall basketball make-up and what he became after Thornwood; people forget what Curry could do for a player his size and at his age while at Thornwood. The prep version was regarded by some as the No. 1 prospect in the country, MVP of the McDonald's All-American game his senior year and the No. 4 pick in the NBA Draft in 2001.
But do Alexander and Okafor both project higher at the same stage than Curry?
Just looking at the last 30 years (since 1983) of top Illinois prep big men prospects, with one-year Chicago wunderkind Kevin Garnett as the standard when it comes to the best of the best, where will Alexander and Okafor fall among the following list?:
▪ LaPhonso Ellis, East St. Louis Lincoln (Class of 1988)
▪ Deon Thomas, Simeon (Class of 1989)
▪ Juwan Howard, Vocational (Class of 1991)
▪ Rashard Griffith, King (Class of 1993)
▪ Kevin Garnett, Farragut (Class of 1995)
▪ Eddy Curry, Thornwood (Class of 2001)
▪ Meyers Leonard, Robinson (Class of 2010)
▪ Anthony Davis, Chicago Perspectives (Class of 2011)
This winter it will be debatable and fun to compare.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport