Creighton guard Trey Alexander finding inspiration and comfort from unexpected source (2023)

Trey Alexander can’t help but remember those phone calls home to Oklahoma City. His voice crept through, weighed down by uncertainty and gloom.

“I don’t know if this is really what I want to do anymore.”

Midway through his freshman season at Creighton, Alexander wasn’t having fun. He wasn’t playing like he knew how to play. The guard with visions of the NBA was no longer sure about his future with basketball. Not when it felt like this.

“I don’t know if this is for me,” he told his parents.

For weeks, Alexander found himself reliving what felt like the same day. Dragging himself to school. Going to practice. Then returning straight to his room, where’d he’d lock his door, lay down and await the sun to peer through the shades. Then he’d do it all over again.

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“I wouldn’t call it depressed,” Alexander said, “but that’s kind of what it was.”

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Amid his emptiness— before Alexander rediscovered himself and became a pillar for the Bluejays— he found comfort in the oddest of sources.

An anime cartoon series named Naruto, featuring a villain, Itachi Uchiha, whose will couldn’t be broken. Whose character carried an element of mystery.

“I feel like me and Itachi go hand in hand,” Alexander said before the season. “They don’t know a lot about me. They haven’t seen too much of me. They might be like, ‘This dude, he’s alright.’ I don’t mind that underrated mentality.”

This is where you’re probably scratching your head. Where’s the correlation between a cartoon and basketball?

Alexander understands the confusion. When he first encountered anime, Alexander laughed, too.

But every great athlete draws inspiration from something. Music. Movies. Mentors. Basketball only comprises so much of who he is.

His introduction to Naruto came in 10th grade, when his friend recommended the series.

Alexander reluctantly dove in. Months later, nearly finished with all 26 seasons, he was stunned to find himself glued to the screen. And through the flood of heroic subplots, Alexander was drawn in closest by Uchiha.

In that character, Alexander saw the unraveling of an individual that felt eerily familiar. Even as complicated as the antagonist’s story is, Alexander has found peace in aligning himself with Uchiha.

“He’s really misunderstood throughout the whole Naruto series,” Alexander said. “That’s what I loved about him most. People had this set persona on him that he was a bad person or whatever, but the whole time he was protecting (his brother) Sasuke. Everything he did was for his brother.”

Their stories were written in stone long before either of them were a thought.

Uchiha carried on the legacy of the longest existing clan in his village. Granted a unique visual ability passed down through his lineage, the family name rang bells everywhere.

The Alexanders have left their mark in their own right.

Alexander’s grandfather was an Oklahoma high school basketball state champion back in 1978. His uncles, D’Angelo and Xavier, played for Oklahoma and George Washington once upon a time. His father, Steve, was playing at Central Oklahoma when Trey was born.

Steve ensured Trey was in line. He’d talk to his unborn son, putting his face to the stomach of Trey’s mother, Monique, while she was pregnant.

“‘You’re gonna be doing this next,’” Steve remembers saying. “Just putting it out to the universe.”

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Trey was the heir to Oklahoma basketball royalty. History didn’t leave him much of a say in the matter.

“I had a vision of him being better than I was,” Steve said. “That was always my goal, to make him a better basketball player than me and the rest of my family.”

When his playing days were over, Steve became a trainer and coach. He mixed a young Trey into workouts when he’d train players from the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G League team. By the time Trey grew old enough for players his own age to join his workouts, he needed a bigger challenge.

Tough love was Steve’s answer.

The two put in twice the work, and Steve never went easy on his son. Trey wasn’t the type to bid war against his father. He was nonchalant, which “would kind of piss me off more than anything,” Steve said.

Trey’s grandfather was even rougher on Steve. Steve hardened his on-court shell to handle what his father dished out. It strained their off-court relationship, though, which Steve never wanted with Trey.

Steve knew the vision each of them had in terms of how far basketball could take Trey. If he sensed even an ounce of effort was missing while they trained, Steve took it as Trey’s attempt at a day off. He didn’t take any shame in kicking Trey out of workouts in the past.

“‘Nobody is a finished product in the eight, ninth, 10th grade,’” Steve used to say. “‘There’s kids out here that are working. Last time I checked, you’re not at the very top of the list.’”

That’s about the age Alexander discovered the anime series. Uchiha was barely a teenager when he became a captain within his village’s black ops troops, with grown men in awe of his skill and mysteriousness.

The Alexander family, too, groomed an android-esque prodigy.

“He just had tunnel vision,” Monique said. “He knew what he wanted to do, and he didn’t want the distractions.”

Trey capped off his freshman year by leading Heritage High to an Oklahoma state championship. Three years later, he finished his career as the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year. He played beyond his years, labeled as the best player in his class throughout the state well before he committed to Auburn.

He was the man from Day 1. It was all he never knew.

When Alexander stepped onto Creighton’s campus as a late addition to the school’s top-rated recruiting class in history, he was in for a rude awakening. Everybody in Division I had been the man somewhere.

Trey began his freshman season in a limited role. He wasn’t shooting every shot. He wasn’t playing his game, or doing what he thought he could.

There was a weight both Uchica and Alexander carried as the golden children of their families. None of Alexander’s family ever reached the NBA, so since he was a kid, they’d all implanted in him that he’d be the one.

There was a difference in weighing other’s expectations for him next to what he held himself to.

Sure, what he’d come to expect from himself was, in part, molded by those around him. But seeing just how out of touch his personal expectations were with his reality made him question his love for the game.

Alexander couldn’t survive by tolerating his situation. He needed to find a way to be comfortable again.

No one was going to yank Alexander back into love with basketball but himself. His parents convinced him that much. His father presented two paths: Alexander could either walk away from the game or work through his dilemma. If it was what he wanted, he was going to make it happen.

It was instinctual. His muscles motioned toward the hardwood.

Alexander got in the gym more than he ever had through his career. It’s become ritual now, to the point where coach Greg McDermott expects to see him there nearly every morning. His father’s ultimatum gave him a new perspective.

Even on many of those lonely nights, Alexander was still watching anime. His mind wandered to determine the meaning of characters and why they were so relatable.

He’d think back to Naruto.

For most of his existence, Uchiha was recognized as the greatest traitor to ever live; a highly-skilled ninja turned emotionless assassin who slaughtered his entire bloodline before fleeing his village.

It wasn’t until beyond his final moments that Uchiha’s intentions were revealed as admirable from the beginning. His heart overflowed with compassion for his birthplace, his sacrifices preventing a civil war inside his village. The cloud that hung over him wouldn’t tell you that.

Rarely does Alexander wear his feelings or intentions. Back-to-back fouls might raise his eyebrows. An opposing coach chirping could elicit a one-liner. His ability to hide his emotions let his slump go undetected for a while.

The way Uchiha operated stuck with Alexander. The things he stood for. As he understood Uchiha, he understood himself.

In mid-February 2022, it started to make sense on the court.

Alexander and the Bluejays hit the road for D.C. to play Georgetown for the first of their two meetings that week.

He hadn’t necessarily had an explosive, breakout game to that point in the season. That night wasn’t much different. Alexander finished with seven points and six assists. But he played a season-high 37 minutes and felt like the plays he made genuinely contributed to the team’s win.

The details of that game are fuzzy for Alexander. What he remembers most was the feeling afterward. The buzz in the locker room. He was geeked to even be there. To help impact winning.

This is how I remember basketball to be, he thought.

“I’ll never let myself go back into that dark space again,” Alexander said. “It’s one of those things where you see how bad it can get, so you try to stay at a high level.”

Filling up the stat sheet to prove to himself that he was who he thought wasn’t the objective anymore. This was how he’d win.

“The Itachirole, he had to sacrifice his family to protect Sasuke,” Alexander said. “It was kind of like me just having to take away from my shots, take away from something I’m usually good at in scoring, but it was for the greater good of the team. So I did what I had to do for us to be successful.”

Alexander’s coming-out party came shortly thereafter when CU guard Ryan Nembhard was sidelined and Alexander was forced to step up — a stretch that made the Jays’ staff believe in his future as a key player. Believe that he’d enjoy a further but necessary leap.

Part of that includes mental strength in dealing with the challenges that come with, at times, not living up to others’ expectations. The kind he sought as a teenager who received hate mail after decommitting from Auburn. Back then, it forced him off of social media entirely.

But there are few surprises for Alexander now. He roams social media in moderation and turns the other cheek. Like when the shots don’t fall and the numbers are thrown in his face.

Creighton guard Trey Alexander finding inspiration and comfort from unexpected source (3)

He’s learned to flush them while nearly doubling his impact from a year ago. Through 19 games, the sophomore guard has averaged 13.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 41.2% from 3 — all while tasked with defending every team’s best perimeter player.

Alexander hasn’t gone without his share of rough patches. But he’s kept a short memory of them, supplying outbursts like his career-high 32 points versus Depaul on Christmas. Or his 20-point game over then-No. 19 Providence, with his free throws coming clutch. Or his 16-point outing and late forced turnover to have the Jays within a possession of beating Xavier at the Cintas Center.

“When people go into slumps, most people are like ‘He’s not working on his game, he’s not doing everything he can on the basketball court,’” Alexander said. “At the end of the day I’m grinding the way I’m supposed to.”

There’s power behind finding comfortability in his role. Even as it fluctuates. Even if no one else understands it.

No one truly understood Uchiha.

Uchiha’s actions weren’t in vain. But to most, they’ll never be known. He took his sacrifices to his grave. Alexander is fit to do the same.

“I’m definitely cool with people not understanding my truth,” Alexander said. “I look at it like I gotta take care of my family with this. That’s what holds pressure to me. That’s why I grind as hard as I do.”

Creighton guard Trey Alexander finding inspiration and comfort from unexpected source (4)

The 2022-23 Creighton men's basketball team

Creighton guard Trey Alexander finding inspiration and comfort from unexpected source (5)

Creighton guard Trey Alexander finding inspiration and comfort from unexpected source (6)

Creighton guard Trey Alexander finding inspiration and comfort from unexpected source (7)

Creighton guard Trey Alexander finding inspiration and comfort from unexpected source (8)

Creighton guard Trey Alexander finding inspiration and comfort from unexpected source (9)

Creighton guard Trey Alexander finding inspiration and comfort from unexpected source (10)

Creighton guard Trey Alexander finding inspiration and comfort from unexpected source (11)

Creighton guard Trey Alexander finding inspiration and comfort from unexpected source (12)

Creighton guard Trey Alexander finding inspiration and comfort from unexpected source (13)

Creighton guard Trey Alexander finding inspiration and comfort from unexpected source (14)

Creighton guard Trey Alexander finding inspiration and comfort from unexpected source (15)

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Creighton guard Trey Alexander finding inspiration and comfort from unexpected source (19)

Creighton guard Trey Alexander finding inspiration and comfort from unexpected source (20)

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