- Matt Remsberg, ESPNHS
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This story appeared in the San Antonio/Austin edition of the November ESPN RISE Magazine.
Countless influences have helped shape Daniel Alexander into the basketball player he is today.
The Dripping Springs (Dripping Springs, Texas) senior forward wore out VHS highlight tapes of players like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson while growing up. He was a regular in adult pickup games around Austin even before reaching high school. His father, Dan, a very good player in his own right, has worked with his son for more than a decade.
But looking back over everything, it was seeing the Harlem Globetrotters in third grade that inspired Alexander more than anything else. Living in Washington, D.C., at the time, Alexander was awed by the size and skill of the Globetrotters, especially when one of them pulled him out of the crowd, handed him a ball and lifted him up for the first dunk of his life. But more than that, Alexander was blown away by the fun the Globetrotters had on the court and the camaraderie they shared.
While waiting in line for autographs after the show, Alexander came up with a career goal: "He told us on the spot that he was going to grow up and become the first white Harlem Globetrotter," his father says.
Little did he know that Bob Karstens had already beaten him to the punch by about 50 years. But the spirit of the Globetrotters has stuck with Alexander on and off the court all these years later as he chases another career goal: playing in the NBA.
"I don't know if Daniel likes basketball more than people or people more than basketball, but he cherishes camaraderie," says his mother, Lyn. "All the relationships he has formed through basketball mean as much to him as the wins and losses."
Alexander also remains quite the showman. Rated the nation's No. 91 recruit in the ESPNU 100, No. 8 among Texans, the Texas A&M commit is one of the most creative players in the country. At 6-foot-8 and 205 pounds, he is a guard in a forward's body -- a fact he owes to years of solitary practice working on his handle and throwing no-look passes at carefully positioned folding chairs he set up in his backyard court.
But just because he has the moves of a high school Globetrotter doesn't mean he takes the game lightly. Alexander lives for basketball. He still practices for hours on end in his driveway and at school and is dedicated in the weight room as he tries to add muscle to his lean frame.
He is also fully immersed in basketball culture, owning about 80 pairs of sneakers and numerous jerseys of his favorite NBA players. He's especially proud of his sneaker collection, as well he should be considering some of the stunts he pulled off to add to his total.
He won his most prized kicks, a pair of Jordan V retros, by jumping into his family's pool on a cold January evening after his dad agreed to get him the sneakers if he took the plunge.
"It was the stupidest thing I've ever done," Alexander says. "I was shivering and crying by the side of the pool. But it was all worth it once I had those Jordans."
Given his nature, it's not surprising Alexander's favorite thing about his sneaker collection is when he can give away a pair to a friend or teammate. And that's really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Alexander's passion for building camaraderie among his teammates.
Alexander regularly has them over to his house for practices or to mess around with trick shots and have fun. They've even been working on dance moves (a la Shaq at the 2009 All-Star Game) that they hope to break out during the season.
Beyond the basketball team, Alexander is a central figure in the Dripping Springs community. He emcees the football team's pep rally each week with so much energy you'd think he was a professional TV host. Also very artistic, Alexander often draws caricatures for classmates and teachers.
"He has the most inclusive personality I've ever seen," Alexander's father says. "He doesn't mind being the center of attention, but not in a conceited way, more because it allows him to bring attention to others."
Home-schooled until fifth grade, Alexander knows what it can feel like to be an outsider. So he relishes the opportunity to bring his classmates together in whatever way he can.
"I was the new kid in fifth grade running around asking everyone who their favorite Ninja Turtle was," Alexander says. "It took a while to figure out how to fit in, so I'm sensitive to other people who might be going through something similar."
If there's one place Alexander has never had trouble had fitting in, it's the basketball court. A member of the varsity since his freshman year, Alexander has helped the team steadily improve each of the past three years.
He averaged 19 points and nine rebounds per game to earn District 26-4A MVP honors last season as the Tigers returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. And this year's squad is looking to make a deep playoff run after losing in the first round last season.
"I think Daniel has sat back a little each year and deferred to the older players, but now that he's a senior that won't be the case anymore," Dripping Springs coach Lewis Jenkins says. "It seems weird to say since he was the District MVP last year, but I think he could really break out and have a special year."
He certainly won't shy away from the spotlight.
Standout forward Daniel Alexander doesn't mind being front and center off the court, but he lives for the camaraderie of playing team basketball