‘Humble,’ ‘tough’ Cliff Alexander signs KU letter of intent

Kansas recruit Cliff Alexander watches from behind the bench during Late Night in the Phog, Friday, Oct. 4, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas recruit Cliff Alexander watches from behind the bench during Late Night in the Phog, Friday, Oct. 4, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Originally published November 16, 2013 at 10:10 a.m., updated November 16, 2013 at 11:48 p.m.

The Twitter handle “humblekid11” is an appropriate moniker for Kansas University basketball signee Cliff Alexander.

So says Nick Irvin, Alexander’s Mac Irvin Fire AAU coach of the past two years.

“He’s a humble kid, very humble, a great kid all-around,” Irvin said of the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Chicago Curie High senior power forward who orally committed to KU on Friday and signed his national letter of intent Saturday morning.

He chose the Jayhawks over Illinois, DePaul and Memphis.

“That’s my guy. He always used to talk to me when we were on the road. He’s a student of the game. He loves everything about the game,” Irvin added.

Alexander has progressed greatly in basketball in a short time.

He didn’t take up hoops until eighth grade while living on Chicago’s West side.

“He started late,” said his mom, Latillia. “I didn’t think he had any interest in basketball at all. He was a normal little kid. I didn’t think he’d grow up to be this big and wanting to play ball. He loves basketball (now). I’m very proud of him. He works hard. He knows he has to work hard to keep getting better.”

Through the hard work, he has become one of the top two players (with Duke signee Jahlil Okafor) in the hoops-rich city of Chicago and No. 4-rated player nationally.

“He has put his offensive game together, which he already had, but has enhanced it,” said Irvin. “He did a lot of things to get better. He put the time in.”

Alexander averaged 21.3 points, 13.0 rebounds and 5.0 blocks for Curie his junior year in earning first-team all-state honors. In last summer’s Nike Elite Youth Basketball League, he averaged 16.9 points off 59 percent shooting, plus 11.4 rebounds.

Representing USA Basketball, Alexander was MVP of last summer’s Men’s 3 x 3 Under 18 national championship tournament.

“Once everybody got to watch him,” Irvin said of USA Basketball officials, “they saw why he’s so tough and tenacious. He just attacks you.

“He’s a power forward, not a center, very aggressive on both ends. He blocks shots, rebounds, is real tough down in the paint, just like you like it.”

Irvin says Alexander reminds him of the NBA’s Amar’e Stoudemire, “when he (Stoudemire) first got into the league — tenacious, athletic, dunking in your face, just very tough.”

Alexander figures to emerge as yet another standout KU frontcourt player.

“Cliff comes here from a long line of great ones from Chicago and has as much potential as anybody in the class,” KU coach Bill Self said Saturday in announcing Alexander’s signing. “At 6-foot-8, he can play on the block and he can play behind the arc. He can play in between, but the biggest thing he can do is rebound the ball. He’ll remind our fans of a Thomas Robinson going after the ball rebounding.”

Like the Portland Trail Blazer’s Robinson, he’ll be in the NBA before long.

“He’s definitely one and done (to pros),” Irvin said. “He’s definitely not going to be in college but one year. If he’s there longer than one year, I’m going to get on the coaches,” Irvin added, laughing.

Noted his mom: “The NBA would be great. Who wouldn’t dream of playing the NBA? But education is first.”

As far as his college choice ...

“It was a good decision,” Irvin said of Alexander’s decision to pick KU. “He likes the way Kansas plays. They get after it. He’ll fit in well.”

Irvin said the Jayhawks, “did a good job of recruiting him. Bill Self is a great coach. I respect Bill Self, knowing him since I was a kid. He’s a real good guy.”

Yet Illinois and coach John Groce had a realistic chance of landing Alexander.

“A very good chance,” Irvin said. “He (Alexander) was crying (at Friday’s news conference). He probably wanted to go to every school. He had to pick one. I thought Illinois had a great shot, Memphis as well, and DePaul, all had a great shot. I’m sure it came down to the last minute, last second. He let it all out (in crying).”

Mom Latillia noted: “It was really tough. All the schools are great coaching staff-wise, great programs. I think coach Self will get him to the next level where he wants to be.”

“I talked to coach Groce a lot, every day since I announced when I was going to make my decision,” Cliff Alexander said, noting, “I just thought coach Self could develop me and get me where I want to be fast. I didn’t have time to waste. He has a lot of titles under his belt, a lot of pros.”

Hat flap: Irvin said he wasn’t fooled when Alexander first grabbed a U of I hat at Friday’s commitment ceremony, before putting a KU hat on his head.

“Cliff likes to joke around. He does a lot of playing and stuff,” Irvin said.

Alexander explained his actions on Twitter on Saturday, also his 18th birthday.

“Didn’t mean no harm to the Illini fans, was just having fun.”

His mom added: “I know a lot of people are upset. It was something he discussed with his teammates. It’s why he did it. Some said it was immature of him. I don’t think so. I’m not saying that because he’s my son. He just thought it’d be funny for his teammates. I’m sincere about coach Groce (John, Illinois). I really like him and Illinois.”

Friend attends KU: Cliff’s girlfriend, Caelynn Manning-Allen, plays for KU’s women’s team.

“I’m not sure but I know that probably played a part in him going there,” Irvin said. “They’ve been dating a while.”

More from Self: “We are so excited about Cliff. Since (assistant coach) Jerrance Howard has been on board (last spring), he has done a great job in recruiting both Cliff and his family. Cliff comes from an excellent high school program and has been well coached by Mike Oliver his entire high school career. Mike has been one of the longest tenured coaches in the Chicago area and has produced several great prospects like Cliff.”

Recruiting: KU has signed Alexander and No. 12 Kelly Oubre, 6-7 from Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev.

“The combination of Cliff and Kelly Oubre gives us what we feel are two of the top players in our class and is a great momentum boost going forward this season knowing we’ll have some real good players waiting to get here next year,” Self said. KU has filled its allotment of two scholarships (senior Tarik Black and certain one-and-done Andrew Wiggins), but could lose additional players to the NBA.