Cliff Alexander’s Kansas career has been a bust thus far



When Kansas brought in Cliff Alexander, the third ranked recruit in the entire nation, they expected a lot more than what he’s produced in his rookie season. Alexander was suspended indefinitely yesterday for what the Athletic Director deemed a “NCAA issue with his eligibility.”

That’s just corporatespeak for whatever “infraction” was supposedly committed in this situation. Remember “infraction” here is defined by the NCAA; and the NCAA is not at all consistent when it comes eligibility rulings. Their laws are extremely arbitrary and capricious.

Details will emerge soon enough, the only information public right now is meaningless legalese. However, even before this latest issue arose, the 6-9, 235 power forward from Curie High School in Chicago was having a disappointing season.

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Alexander is averaging 7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in only 17.6 minutes per game this season. He came to the Jayhawks with “lottery pick/one-and-done” hype, but his rookie season has gone quite poorly.

Cliff only played 10 minutes in Monday’s loss at Kansas State and was held scoreless. He still could leave KU this year and enter the NBA draft though. He would still be just fine regarding his pro career if he impresses at the Scouting Combine in May. He has height and that often matters a lot more than on-the-court production when it comes to NBA Draft stock.

Still, given how awful his freshman season has gone, he really should stay in school at least another year to develop his game. In a different era of college hoops, his numbers aren’t bad at all for a freshman. It’s not that Alexander has really been that awful, as much as it’s how far out of whack expectations have become now in the “1-and-done” era. A blue chip freshman playing less than 18 minutes a game and not producing much would not be a huge deal in the pre-Fab 5 era.

However, off-the-court controversy is not new to Cliff Alexander. Before he even got to Bill Self’s program you had:

1.) the juvenile, but ultimately blown way out of proportion hat switching gag that made a mockery of the Illinois Fighting Illini basketball program. This exact same type of immature silliness happens with college football recruiting all the time, but people don’t usually lose their mind about it like they did during ESPNU’s goofy reality show special featuring Alexander. For a whole host of reasons, Alexander was unfairly demonized for committing an act that is actually fairly commonplace.

Every top rated prospect can handle their college decision making process in any matter they seem fit; but when you turn your college selection into a made-for-TV drama, you’ve made yourself fair game for criticism.

2.) Curie High forfeiting all its games (including the city championship) for using ineligible players, and then getting upset in the first round of the playoffs. Perhaps this was just karma for the school charging money, even to their own students, to attend the Alexander hat ceremony. The whole episode just reinforced the idea that devoting a half hour nationally broadcast television show to a basketball player choosing his college is…

…something that jumped the shark a long time ago.

And when you combine this with all the attention on the other high profile decisions being made that day, it reminded us all how media coverage of recruiting has become an overgrown cottage industry that’s gotten so large, we should all be alarmed.

When Michael Jordan returned to the Bulls, he sent a two word fax that simply stated “I’m back.”

Stay tuned, as the Cliff Alexander story is just beginning. It could be possible that this situation is similar to Johnny Manziel vs. the adult autograph seekers vs. the NCAA: no one is really innocent or guilty. And it might become a story where there’s no one to root for.

Paul M. Banks owns, operates and writes The Sports, which is partnered with Fox Sports Digital, eBay, Google News and CBS Interactive. You can read Banks’ feature stories in the Chicago Tribune RedEye newspaper and listen to him on KOZN 1620 The Zone.

Follow him on Twitter (@paulmbanks)

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