What Auburn basketball is getting in four-star guard Trey Alexander
Bruce Pearl needed to find an ideal pairing for Jabari Smith Jr. in what will be a small 2021 class, and the OKC native looks like a perfect fit.
It might be dangerous to look past an Auburn basketball season that hasn’t started yet. However, the news for Bruce Pearl’s program Thursday evening should get Tigers fans even more excited for what’s coming next.
Four-star guard Trey Alexander committed to Auburn, joining top-5 overall prospect Jabari Smith Jr. in the Tigers’ 2021 class. Alexander, a native of Oklahoma City and a cousin of star NBA point guard Mike Conley Jr., is rated as the No. 61 player in the country by the 247Sports Composite and would be the 11th-best signee in school history.
The obvious storyline for Auburn basketball in 2020-21 is how much youth it will have after a massive exodus of seniors and impending NBA Draft lottery pick Isaac Okoro. The Tigers have zero seniors on their roster and just two scholarship juniors in Jamal Johnson and Javon Franklin.
There’s a chance that an Auburn player’s stock could soar this upcoming season — like five-star point guard Sharife Cooper — but it’s more likely than not that Auburn brings back everybody on its roster for 2021-22. That means Pearl and his staff would only have room to sign a couple of players in the 2021 class.
Auburn has made the most of its limited space. Alexander is an ideal pairing in a potential two-man signing class with Smith, who is expected to officially sign with the Tigers soon and become the highest-rated signee in program history.
If Cooper comes back for his sophomore season, Alexander should fit right into the Tigers’ backcourt plans. He is a 6-foot-4 combo guard who is mostly a 2 but spends a decent amount of time running the 1 for his high school, Heritage Hall.
Alexander fits Pearl’s system perfectly, and it’s what drew him to consider Auburn in the first place. Here’s what he told Jacob Polacheck of Zagsblog in late September:
The coaches have talked to me about coming in and being the guy. If Sharife [Cooper] decides to stay two years, I could come in and play alongside him at the two or the one. I love their play style. They have a great pace, push the ball and shoot a lot of threes. Coach [Bruce Pearl] instilled in me and said, ‘if you come here, it’s live and die by the three. We always take the first shot and try and turn people over’. So, I love the way they play and love the way he coaches his guys and gets the best out of them.
Alexander is a scoring machine. He averaged 26.6 points per game as a junior at Heritage Hall, which was headed toward a state title in Oklahoma before the COVID-19 pandemic cut the season short. And, like Cooper, he primarily gets things done with the two shots that Auburn bases its entire offense on — the 3-pointer and the close-range bucket.
It’s easy to see how Alexander would fit as a 2 guard at Auburn, considering he has a knack for catching fire from deep. During his junior season, he hit 10 triples in a single game. And, during his most recent game as a senior, Alexander hit eight.
The first thing that stands out about Alexander’s 3-point shot is that he is unafraid to pull from far behind the line. That bodes well for his adjustment to a college 3-point arc and increases his potential in a Pearl spread-out system in which the Tigers can create extra space against defenses by showing the ability to make extra-deep shots.
Alexander combines that Jared Harper-like range with a great confidence on jumpers off the dribble. He doesn’t create highlights by pulling off a ton of ankle-breaking crossovers or spins. His space-creating dribbles are simple, decisive and efficient.
Alexander has a nice rhythm on pull-up and step-back shots from both 3-point and mid-range — so much so, it often looks like he’s more comfortable creating his own shot than hitting them in the catch-and-shoot.
That’s not to say Alexander can’t be a catch-and-shoot weapon. His release isn’t the quickest or the most fluid, but it’s effective. And, thanks to his solid size and wingspan for a backcourt player, he has an ability to get that shot over defenders who are in decent positions.
Alexander’s highlights show a guard who is deadly when he can get to his spot and fire away. He appears to be equally strong at shooting from both wings, and he can make defenses pay from straight-on if they aren’t on him tight enough early in possessions.
When defenses come up on him, though, Alexander can drive to the basket and finish around the rim. Once again, the moves aren’t overly flashy — he just finds crafty ways to use his length and attack the right angles inside.
This is an area of his game that Alexander has worked on the most in recent months, as he told Sports Illustrated’s Jason Jordan in October:
I’ve mostly been working individually. I’ve gotten a lot better at finishing with both hands. I’m better at coming off pick-and-rolls with either hand and learning how to be more explosive with my first dribble. That and my core work because that’s so important at the highest level.
Alexander didn’t play a ton of games in the summer circuits this year, but when he did, his highlights had just as many inside finishes as 3-point bombs. According to Jordan, Alexander still averaged 24 points per game across three summer tournaments while dedicating the majority of his time to solo work.
While averaging 26.6 points per game as a high school junior surely catches attention, two of Alexander’s other counting stats — 9.0 rebounds per game and 2.8 steals per game — might be even more impressive, given his role.
In high school, camp and AAU play, Alexander is constantly looking to crash the boards whenever he can. That’s not exactly a common trait among blue-chip recruits who are more known for their scoring outbursts. But Alexander is aggressive at following his teammates’ shots and trying to clean things up on the inside. Oftentimes, he plays bigger than 6-foot-4.
Alexander’s aggression and instincts on the glass also come out on defense, where he gets into passing lanes and affects shots with regularity. He might be one of the best shot-blocking guards the Tigers have signed in quite some time.
Alexander’s on-ball defense is impressive, as he often draws the opponent’s top guard on defense and sticks to them well when they try to drive to the basket.
It’s easy to see why Pearl might be high on Alexander as one of his select few in the 2021 class. If the Tigers can’t press nearly as much these days thanks to rule changes in college basketball, they need tenacious defenders who will create fast-break opportunities by disrupting opponents in the half-court.
Opinions on Alexander vary, as he went from a potential five-star recruit by several services as a sophomore to someone who is outside the top-10 of shooting guards in the composite ratings.
But Alexander carries himself well for a player who national powerhouse Kansas really wanted in its 2021 class. (There’s another win over the Jayhawks for the Tigers under Pearl.) He plays with great energy and tenacity, which should make him fit in quite well at Auburn.
Think of Alexander as a higher-rated Bryce Brown — a high-motor, 3-and-D impact guard who is more than capable of handling the ball if needed and has strong potential to be a vocal team leader in time. Here’s how he described himself to Polacheck:
I play hard the whole time. Whatever team I’m on, I’m going to be very vocal, telling guys where they should be and anything like that. Mainly, I’m a winner and a scorer. I love to score the basketball. I can distribute the ball as well, playing the one. I rebound the ball well. I’m more of an all-around guy. I play defense and usually guard the best player on the other team. Whatever it takes to win, that’s what I’m doing.
A lot could change for Auburn basketball between now and when Alexander arrives on campus. But it’s easy to see how the Oklahoma native figures into Pearl’s plans. He’s a perfect match for the team’s offensive and defensive style, some much-needed additional firepower at guard, and a natural complement to the styles of both Cooper and Smith.
Alexander won’t grab the same level of headlines as those elite five-star pickups for Auburn. His commitment won’t take a small Auburn class into the top 20 nationally, either.
Auburn fans shouldn’t be fooled by that, because Trey Alexander is exactly the type of player that can help push the Tigers even higher as a program that wants to consistently compete for championships.