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'Beyond my wildest dreams': Alexander heading to second Olympics

'I remember being 12-year-old Kayla invited to my first basketball tryout. I was terrible, but I was just having fun out there with my friends, says local hoops star
Barrie's Kayla Alexander will be heading to the Summer Olympics in Paris as a member of the Canadian women's basketball team.

The time for real reflection will come down the road when she steps away from the court for good, but for Barrie’s Kayla Alexander, recently helping the Canadian women’s basketball team qualify for the Paris Olympic Games this summer, and the journey she’s taken to get there, is something she never imagined.

The spiritual believer says she sees God written all over her life when she looks back.

“I remember being 12-year-old Kayla invited to my first basketball tryout. I was terrible, but I was just having fun out there with my friends,” recalled the 33-year-old, who helped Canada finish in the top three in the so-called “Group of Death” at the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament held earlier this month in Sopron, Hungary.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be where I am at today," she said. "That little girl wanted to be an art teacher, she wanted to be an artist. She was just playing ball for fun."

A long-term goal was never really on her mind. 

“I didn’t think about pursuing basketball and getting a scholarship or playing in the WNBA or overseas at the highest level for her country," Alexander said. "That was never at the top of my mind when I took up basketball.”

It was just a sport — something to try that she wasn’t good at, but was having fun, enjoying and getting better at.

“This is God’s plan. Not my plan at all and, honestly, I’m grateful,” said the hoops star, who grew up in Milton and Barrie. “I love the stuff he’s given me. It’s been beyond my wildest dreams.

"It’s allowed me to have an impact on my family, other people and the community," said Alexander. "I just hope that when it’s all said and done, that as much as I’ve enjoyed the game and all the experiences that it’s given me, I hope I’ve also used the game to give back to my community.”

Barrie's Kayla Alexander will be heading to the Summer Olympics in Paris as a member of the Canadian women's basketball team. | Photo courtesy of the Canadian Olympic Team

The Summer Games in France will mark Alexander’s second appearance in the Olympics. Alexander was a member of the women’s squad that finished ninth at the 2020-21 Tokyo Games.

While Canada went 3-0 in pool play to qualify in Tokyo, they needed help this time around after finishing 1-2. Canada was able to sneak through the backdoor when favoured Spain, down 22 points, rallied to beat Hungary, 73-72, and help Canada clinch the third and final spot.

Canada was in danger of not qualifying for the first time since 2008, after losing 86-82 to Japan earlier in the day.

“I didn’t like that it was out of our hands,” admitted Alexander, who was one of Canada’s top players in the tournament. “After the Japan game, in my head, I thought we were done and our Olympic dreams were over. Then Spain came back, being down 22, and gave us our Olympic dreams back, so I’m thrilled."

Alexander says it was a roller-coaster of emotions that day — from thinking they were out to finding out they were going to Paris.

“It was a wild, wild day, but I’m just incredibly thankful and, if I’m being honest, that day was a perfect example of God’s plan,” she said. “If God wants something, he’ll find a way to make it happen."

Canada got an opportunity and Alexander says she doesn’t want to take it for granted that they’re in. Instead, she and her teammates must take full advantage and make the most of the moment when they get to Paris.

That means using the time over the summer and training camp to work on the things they need to be better going into the Olympics.

Alexander says the qualifying tournament was personally bittersweet for her. At her first Summer Games in Tokyo, she didn’t get to play much, but did what she could to help the team be successful.

In this year’s qualifying tournament, she played a key role. She earned player-of-the-game honours against Japan, finishing with a double-double after posting 16 points and 14 rebounds while going 7-for-11 in field goals made.

Still, she felt it wasn’t enough to get the job done.

“I’m thankful that we still got in, but it would have been nice if we got in because of ourselves,” said the forward, who led Canada with 17 points and 14 rebounds in the 60-55 loss to Spain and 15 points and 13 rebounds in the opening 67-55 win over Hungary. “I wish we did.

"At the end of the day, it worked out. It’s part of basketball and we’re in, but I’m also thankful for the growth because it shows how far I’ve come as a player," Alexander added. “I’m thankful that I was at a place where I was able to produce those numbers to help my team be successful to get to this point as well, too."

Alexander also praised head coach Víctor Lapeña and his staff for believing in her.

“It’s amazing when you have a coach who believes in you how differently you play, the confidence that you play with and having teammates that have that same confidence in you too and feed you the ball,” she said. “I’m just very thankful for this group and I’m excited to see what we do this summer.”

And she won’t be the only member of the Alexander family representing Canada at the upcoming Paris Summer Games. Brother Kyle will also suit up for Canada. It’s the first time the men’s team has qualified since 2000.

“That’s really exciting,” said Alexander, who is hoping to have family and friends at the Summer Olympics. “God willing, if it’s in his plans, both of us can be at the Olympics together. That would be amazing.”

The six-foot-four forward is also excited the team was able to help captain Natalie Achonwa reach her fourth Olympics.

“That’s pretty incredible,” she said of Achonwa’s accomplishment. “She deserves her flowers for that, for sure.”

Alexander has returned to France to finish out the season with her pro team, Tango Bourges, before returning home this summer to prepare for the national team’s training camp.

Getting the chance to wear a Canadian jersey is always special and Alexander can’t wait.

“Absolutely. I know how hard it is to get here,” said the former star at Syracuse University.

She is also grateful for all the support she has received from her family, friends and Canadians across the country.

“I do not take these opportunities for granted at all, because I know how quickly it can be taken away, and I know how hard it is to get into this position," Alexander said. 

The 2024 Paris Summer Games begin on July 26 and run until Aug. 11.

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Gene Pereira

About the Author: Gene Pereira

An award-winning journalist, Gene is former sports editor of the Barrie Examiner and his byline has appeared in several newspapers. He is also the longtime colour analyst of the OHL Barrie Colts on Rogers TV
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