Vanderbilt guard Brinae Alexander is enjoying a successful senior season on West End. (Hustler Multimedia/Emery Little) (Emery Little)
Vanderbilt guard Brinae Alexander is enjoying a successful senior season on West End. (Hustler Multimedia/Emery Little)

Emery Little

Brinae Alexander: An Untraditional Path to Excellence

Brinae Alexander’s once linear progression in the basketball world has faced quite a few detours at the collegiate level, but through perseverance and sheer talent, the senior star has thrived the whole way through.

January 12, 2022

Brinae Alexander’s Vanderbilt transcript may have the word “senior” written on it, but it is far from goodbye for her and Memorial Gymnasium should she choose to stay. Through a high-achieving, but disjointed college career, Alexander finds herself in the midst of her senior season with two more years of SEC eligibility remaining.

Alexander’s less-than-traditional college career can be partly attributed to a 2018 trip to the Bahamas. Leading up to that, things had been pretty smooth for Alexander on the court. After receiving her first college offer from Ole Miss as an eighth-grader, Alexander proceeded to dominate at Riverdale High School, winning three straight Tennessee AAA state championships. 

“Actually I think out of my whole career, I only lost five or six games,” Alexander said of her pre-college basketball days.

Alexander’s early success and the coaches that facilitated it prepared her well for the jump to the college game.

Despite this, Alexander endured growing pains of the next level. She cited the change of pace as the biggest difference when it comes to college ball, especially regarding defensive effort. 

“Everything is times 10 from high school,” Alexander explained. “Who really plays defense in high school?” 

Even with this monumental change in the way the game was moving around her, Alexander thrived during her time on the court. In her freshman year, she started 10 games and was named to the All-SEC freshman team. She also missed nine games due to a PCL sprain in her knee. All in all, it was certainly a pretty successful rookie campaign for the Nashville native. 

Entering her sophomore season, a more experienced Alexander was hitting her stride in major fashion. 

“I think I was really peaking my sophomore year,” Alexander said. “I was confident that we were going to sneak into that top 25 at some point.” 

She and the Commodores were flying high as they headed into their first test of the season, and our story returns to a sad day at the Junkanoo Jam Preseason Tournament in the Bahamas. Seven minutes into the Commodores’ game against Rutgers, Alexander tore her Achilles tendon, ending her season right then and there. 

“It was a ‘why me’ moment,” Alexander said. 

Just when everything was rolling for the budding star, things came to a screeching halt. While the Commodores had to focus on taking on the rest of the season, Alexander was staring down countless hours of recovery and rehab.

With time, though, her perspective on what some may consider a lost season has evolved. 

“That year was a blessing in disguise,” she said. “I became like a coach on the bench to my teammates. I think that really built my IQ for the game.”

Similar to many aspects in her life, Alexander was ahead of most when it came to rehab. She was able to get back into action in just seven short months, overcoming an injury that usually takes about a year to recover from. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm and Vanderbilt was forced to shut down, Alexander stayed on campus to focus on her recovery. 

“I got to rest physically and grow mentally,” Alexander said “I learned a lot about the game off the floor. Basketball is not just about what you do on the court, a lot of it is what you do off the court. Film study, fitness and what you eat are extremely important.”

Going into the 2020-21 season, Alexander was back—but still in pain. It was not only a physical grind for her, but a draining experience to play with the restrictions that the pandemic put on basketball operations. 

“It was coming to the gym, playing basketball and going back to our rooms,” Alexander said.

After breaking for the winter holidays, Alexander and the Commodores’ season was interrupted by unfortunate news. Multiple coaches and players had tested positive for COVID-19, making the prospect of playing their upcoming schedule a difficult one. As a result, the team initiated a two-week shutdown to plan their next steps. During this shutdown, Alexander had a contemplation of her own. With seven positives on the team already, and things not looking any brighter in the upcoming weeks and months, Alexander, who was high-risk due to her asthma, decided to opt out of the season

The Commodores played two more games without their star junior before opting out as a collective group on Jan. 18, 2021, as the amalgamation of surging cases and nagging injuries made fielding a competitive team essentially impossible. 

“I think everyone just needed that mental and psychical break,” Alexander said. “I think it took a lot of courage to step forward and cut our season short.” 

An untraditional season soon turned into an offseason full of change, as on April 6, athletic director Candice Lee announced that head coach Stephanie White would not be returning for the 2021-22 season. On April 13, Shea Ralph, a seven-time national champion both coach and player, was named to the helm of Commodore basketball. Beyond the titles, Ralph certainly brought an instant winning pedigree to the program, as she came from the perennial contender UConn as an assistant under Hall of Famer Geno Auriemma.

“I will say it’s definitely—it’s not a culture shock, but I think it was really good for us,” Alexander said.. “We didn’t have much structure, and that’s what I needed.” 

Alexander said Ralph has put a huge emphasis on respect, relationships and trust. One of the big ways Ralph fosters such ideals is her strict “no phone-use policy” in team settings. While this and other rules felt jarring at first, Alexander’s perspective on the new way things are run around Memorial Gymnasium have changed from the initial adjustment period. 

“After living through Coach Ralph’s program for the last couple of months, I’m really thankful for it,” Alexander said.

Now that Alexander and the Commodores are settled into their new program, their focus has shifted fully to the season at hand.

“My expectations are just to be successful. Success doesn’t just mean winning games, that will eventually come. It starts with your culture, being a team, doing the right things at the right time, and focusing on the little things.”

The Commodores certainly are winning games;they are sitting at 10-5, with a dominant 8-1 record at home and a 1-0 start to SEC play. Alexander herself is flying high as well, averaging a team-leading 14.3 points per game. While it’s up in the air if this is Alexander’s Vanderbilt farewell tour until she weighs all of her options, she is regardless laying it all on the line for this season and this roster of women that she is a part of. 

“I do believe that this is the most talented team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Alexander said.

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