High-flyer Dan Alexander remains grounded in matters that matter
By Cooper Nelson
GCU News Bureau
As Superman, Clark Kent is a hero, admired for his ability to lift immovable objects with ease and leap tall buildings in a single bound.
As the mild-mannered Kent, he’s overlooked and never admired.Daniel Alexander traded in his Superman cape for Kent eyeglasses when he arrived at Grand Canyon University. The junior, a former high school star in Texas, left NCAA Division I basketball powerhouse Texas A&M to transfer to GCU in late 2012 prior to the Antelopes’ leap to D-I. Head Coach Dan Majerle and his staff immediately envisioned the 6-foot-9 forward as one of the top players for the 2013-14 team.
Alexander, 21, will play his first game with the ’Lopes on Saturday against Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. He was forced to sit out a full year’s worth of games as a result of NCAA transfer regulations, missing virtually all of 2012-13 season and the first eight games this season — a challenge for a guy whose life revolved around basketball.
Of course, he has no superpowers. But Alexander is like many college athletes admired for their superhero-like athletic alter egos, jaw-dropping plays and box-score numbers. He was a nationally ranked, top-100 high school player with a long list of suitors vying for his affection, ranging from Arizona, Texas, Marquette and Baylor to Oklahoma, Florida, Southern California and Kansas. In high school, he was invited to Vince Carter’s Nike Skills Academy for the country’s top 20 forwards and LeBron James’ Skills Academy in high school.
Adjusting to Phoenix and his role as more of a Clark Kent allowed him to discover who he is off the court.
“Before I left A&M, I was driven by success in basketball and it was stressful,” said Alexander, who grew up in Dripping Springs, Texas, a suburb of Austin.
“I’ve had to learn what I’m like without basketball because I literally haven’t been able to identify with it for a year, and I’ve found that basketball is just a part of my life, not my life like I thought before,” Alexander said.
“So, something that I thought was the worst thing to ever happen to me actually became a gift.”
Wearing his cape to class
Alexander always has been creative, imaginative and a little quirky.
As a little kid, he said, his “friends” were mostly movie characters such as Luke Skywalker and Superman.
He wore a towel cape, like a miniature Superman, to home-school classes before enrolling in a public middle school. But that side of him was repressed by the disciplinary culture of basketball in high school and college.
Today, Alexander looks like a taller version of many college students, wearing hem-rolled, straight-leg jeans and Vans sneakers without socks. The unruly hair down to his shoulders and a scraggly beard describe him better than the college basketball player’s outfit of baggy sweatpants, logo team gear, calf-high socks and Nike flip-flops — all of which he says he never wears off the court.
He made a conscious effort this year to introduce people to “Daniel” before they met the “Basketball Daniel.” He grew his distinctive facial hair and locks before transferring to GCU to honor his bearded heroes: Jesus Christ, Samson, William Wallace (“Braveheart”) and Thor.
Alexander is one of only a couple of GCU athletes in the University’s digital film and production program. He joined the creative, artistic program because of its stark contrast to structured sports.
Being himself also means being open about his faith. Alexander is a devout Christian. He has “Disciple” tattooed in Hebrew on his inner left bicep and “John 16:33” (which is: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”) on the underside of his left wrist. He prays regularly and often relates film topics in class to teachings in the Bible.
Sara Lynch, 21, a screenwriting major, met the Clark Kent side of Alexander in a film class.
“It’s really cool to see the stereotypical jock-type guy in a class like that,” Lynch said. “But in class, we all forget he’s an athlete until it’s brought up. He just doesn’t act like that.”
Getting ready for the road
Alexander may want to be known as a normal guy, but his basketball abilities can’t hide forever.
He is expected to be a pivotal member of the team as GCU begins Western Athletic Conference play. The WAC opener is on Jan.2 after challenging road games later this month at Tulsa and New Mexico.
Alexander’s basketball career fell short of his expectations out of high school. After three roller-coaster seasons at A&M with two coaches in three years, he came to GCU to play for former Head Coach Russ Pennell, who began recruiting Alexander during the year he coached at Arizona.
He met Majerle this season and settled into a cheerleader role for the ’Lopes while waiting to play his first regular-season game since November 2012, when he played three minutes of one game at A&M and then decided to leave the school. In practice, Alexander has challenged teammates to better play, providing a glimpse of the D-I level of play the squad GCU expects to face this year.
“There are days in practice where he dominates, basically because he is that good,” said TJ Benson, a former GCU player and current director of basketball operations who was on Pennell’s staff when Alexander arrived on campus.
“We’re definitely excited for him to finally play and we expect him to give us a lift for the rest of the season,” Benson said.
On Saturday at NAU, Clark Kent will have to become Superman once again, this time with the “Canyon” crest displayed across his chest. But Alexander wants to make sure his basketball superpowers don’t overpower who he is off the court.
“In order to be Superman — and I’m not saying I am — I have to be Clark Kent, too,” Alexander said. “Not having the spotlight on me this whole time has been the perfect opportunity to show people who I really am when no one’s watching.
“When people get to know me first and realize later that basketball is just another facet of my life and not who I am, I receive a lot more fulfillment than people thinking it’s cool that I put a ball in a cylinder.”
Contact Cooper Nelson at 639.7511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.