’s Malachi Alexander hasn’t played a full season of varsity basketball yet, but he’s already done enough to earn high praise from his coach.
“He’s probably one of the top juniors around,” Raiders coach Brendan O’Connell said last week. “He’s got Division I interest, and he’s also a great kid.”
Indeed, the 6-foot-6, 195-pound forward has emerged as one of the top young players in Prince George’s County despite his relative inexperience on the varsity level.
“That makes me nervous, because that’s a lot of expectations from him,” Alexander said of O’Connell’s comments. “But I know I can do it. It just feels good that he believes in me, so I’ve just got to prove that I can be a Division I player.”
Alexander played on the junior varsity squad through the first half of last season, but was promoted to the varsity shortly thereafter and eventually became a starter as Roosevelt made it to the at the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center.
“I think we knew when we brought him up that at that point, he’d contribute,” O’Connell said. “But we also knew he’d do everything we told him: he’d always be in the right spot. He might have been — as a sophomore — the most reliable guy, which is exactly what we needed last year.”
The move to varsity was exciting but not a total surprise to the easy-going 16-year-old.
“At first I thought I was going to play [varsity] during the beginning of the season,” he said. “I was still excited... I knew there wasn’t really a spot for me on varsity [early on], so I just kept working.”
O’Connell said that there was a valid reason for leaving Alexander off of the varsity roster initially.
“We knew all along that he was a player,” O’Connell said, “but we just wanted him to get some experience playing in a full game and being a leader on JV at the beginning of the year, rather than just playing a few minutes on varsity and sitting the bench. So it ended up working out pretty well.”
This season, Alexander will be counted on to help the Raiders (4-1) win their third straight Prince George’s 4A League title and make another trip to the state tournament. He said he ramped up his workload in the offseason in order to improve his game, working both with the Raiders and his AAU team, Maryland’s Finest.
So far, he’s off to a strong start. He scored a career-high 17 points in the Raiders’, and is currently averaging 10.8 points per game. He scored nine points in a win over Gwynn Park Saturday that came as part of the More Than Basketball Winter Showcase 2A/3A vs. 4A Challenge at Riverdale Baptist.
“He’s 6-6 and one of our better ballhandlers,” O’Connell said. “When you watch him play, you can’t tell if he’s right-handed or left-handed — he’s worked on that opposite hand so much and he scores with both. His jumpshot, all of that stuff just comes from working and drilling.”
That skill set is a major reason why Alexander has Division I schools interested in his services.
“A couple of coaches came in here when we were working out in the fall,” Alexander said. “I talked to [Pennsylvania], I talked to Cornell. I talked to Colgate last year, Radford (Va.), and then I got a call from Quinnipiac (Conn.). They didn’t come in, but they called me.”
The schools interested in Alexander illustrate that he’s strong in the classroom as well. The Bowie resident is in the Science and Technology program at Roosevelt, and currently carries a 3.8 grade point average. Alexander said he’s thinking about studying engineering in college, and recently applied for an internship at the University of Maryland.
Alexander said his family has always emphasized academics.
“[My parents] expect it, and I expect it from myself,” he said. “I don’t settle. I mean, I always shoot for a 4.0, but this year I’m taking [Advanced Placement classes], so above a 4.0.”
His goals on the court are just as lofty.
“To go even further and win states,” he said. “If we get there and we lose in the semifinals that’s not enough. So we want to take it a step further and win states.”