Cliff Alexander led, alongside Tyrese Rice and co, Brose Bamberg to their first Final Four ever. Even if it isn’t the Euroleague, but the Basketball Champions League we’re talking here, the feat is by no means to be downplayed. Besides, the 23-year-old center put up some impressive performances against no other than Vince Hunter of AEK Athens, the front-runner for the BCL MVP-award if it wasn’t for Tyrese Rice, who scored 25 points on 10/22 shooting, including the floater that gave the Germans the ticket to the big event.
Fans in “Freak City” may start calling him “Alexander the Great”, but the truth is that regardless of nicknames, the BCL-rookie seems to have a bright future ahead of him. Born in Chicago, went to Kansas for just one year, before making himself available in the 2015 NBA draft. Since no team showed interest in him, Alexander decided to pursue his dream with the Portland Trail Blazers, but the future saw him playing mostly in the G-League. ASVEL Villeurbanne signed him at the end of the 2017-18 season and despite the fact that he didn’t find his role in Lyon, Alexander eventually did find a place in the German (the Bavarian, in particular) sun.
Now, he has the chance to win the FIBA Champions League, in a tournament featuring also Antwerp, Virtus Bologna and Tenerife. The only “detail” that might displease him is that -this year- he won’t be seeing the likes of Hapoel Jerusalem any more, since the Israelis were eliminated just a step before the Final Four.
Here is what Cliff Alexander had to say about himself, Amar’e, LeBron and -of course- Tyrese Rice.
Q: Congrats on making it to your first Final Four ever. How does it feel?
A: It feels very good. In the beginning of the season, we didn’t think that we’d be here right now, but once the coach made a few arrangements, we improved a lot and now we’re getting ready for the Final Four. At the beginning, we were kind of shaky in the first part of the season. We had many losses in the Champions League and the German League.
Q: What exactly did coach Perego bring to the team?
A: Probably, his winning mentality. He made sure that everyone stayed focused and made what they were supposed to.
Q: What made the difference for Brose Bamberg in the second leg against AEK?
A: Tyrese Rice! And of course Bryce Taylor, who hit three big shots in a clutch moment of the game. Hats off to both of them guys! If it wasn’t for them, we would be holding our heads down. We would still lose, but we wouldn’t have the goal average in our hands.
Q: What did you think when you first entered the court to face AEK with 15.000 fans on their side?
A: I like that kind of environment, when there’s a lot of people watching a game. So, I came with the same mentality as every game: to do what I can to help my team win and just play my game
Q: This is practically your second year in European basketball, considering that you played only seven games with ASVEL last year. What do you think?
A: I’m enjoying it so far. It didn’t really go too well for me in France but I enjoyed the process, getting along with the fans and my teammates. I’ve been with Bamberg for almost a year and I’m enjoying my teammates and the coaching staff as well.
Q: What’s the objective of Brose Bamberg this year?
A: Keep winning and bring on championships. Until we got past AEK, I didn’t think at all about the Final Four.
Q: How was AEK as an opponent?
A: They’re a great team. They came out, battled hard and made it tough for us. My hat’s off to them, congrats.
Q: How is the competition in the BCL and the BBL in your first year?
A: It is great. I feel like we had the best group, group C was the best. Some great teams came from other groups as well, but ours was pretty good. In Germany, there are some good teams out there like Munich, Berlin and Vechta and the competition is great.
Q: Is there any team that you’re looking forward to facing or winning?
A: Hapoel Jerusalem. We lost twice to those guys and we want some kind of revenge.
Q: Do you know you were compared to Amar’e Stoudemire a few years ago?
A: Yeah, I’ve heard that a lot, since I was growing up playing basketball. Facing him this year was amazing, like a dream come true. Actually, it would have been better if he was in the NBA, but still playing him over here in Europe is a great game.
Q: Why is LeBron James your role model?
A: Because he’s a great man on and off the court. He knows how to take care of himself, he’s very well spoken and a great guy. I definitely look forward to playing with or against him. Either of the two would be very interesting.
Q: What about Europe? Are there any players you look up to?
A: No, I’m still learning the players over here.
Q: Do you imagine yourself playing in the Euroleague in a few years?
A: For sure. It’s my main goal if I stick around and play in Europe. I’ve got a 1+1 contract with Brose Bamberg with team option after the summer. I plan on staying with the team, why not? I wouldn’t mind coming back.
Q: Are you going to participate in another Summer League this year?
A: I’m still thinking about that right now. If Bamberg are going to bring me back here, there’s no point in me playing in the Summer League. But if they don’t …
Q: So, I guess the NBA dream is still alive for you, right?
A: Of course, I’m only 23 years old. I’m still young and still trying to get to the NBA.
Q: Tell me about the experience you had in Kansas City four years ago and you didn’t manage to finish the season with them.
A: A few off-the-court issues that escalated while I was there. Those made me not play in the second half of the season, in important games that my team probably needed me. I enjoyed my time there, coach Self and the University and I just want to say “thank you”.
Q: In an interview, you said that you were dealt a bad deck of cards. Why did you get that impression?
A: I guess I didn’t live up to the hype. I was the number 3 recruit coming in and I didn’t live up to what I was supposed to do. Of course, I blame myself for that.
Q: Are you feeling dominant in Europe?
A: For sure I feel pretty dominant. I’m helping my team win and I’m playing my game the best way I can.