Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – As a marketing/communications intern for the Edmonton Stingers during the summer of 2021, Alex Jap dove into the role with the same level of enthusiasm he brings to the court for the MacEwan Griffins men's basketball team.
"I'm studying communications (at MacEwan) and it's something I want to do as my career, so being able to do that with the Stingers was a dream come true because it's right up my alley," explained the third-year forward, who helped the Canadian Elite Basketball League championship team on broadcasts and with other various marketing/communications duties.
"It was a great experience. I'm hoping to be back with them next year and moving forward."
The professionalism that the players exhibited was also something he took away from the experience.
"There is a lot of U SPORTS guys in that league, so it was interesting to see those guys play," he said. "Some of the guys I've played against were in that league, but really it's definitely a step up from what we're playing here.
"It's great to see the professionalism of the guys not just on the court, but off the court, too."
Jap, who will lead the Griffins into their home-opening weekend vs. Calgary on Friday (8 p.m.) and Saturday (7 p.m., both David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV presented by Co-op), has been able to incorporate some of that pro experience into his game as a team veteran and leader this season.
Although he is only in his third season in U SPORTS, Jap is one of the most experienced players on the Griffins and has been thrust into a leadership role normally reserved for fifth-year seniors.
"It's been a challenge for sure," said the Sherwood Park product. "We have a core group of leaders here who've all been here for three or four years. Obviously, when you have no fifth-years, you have to step up and play the role that you're in.
"We also have a lot of rookies stepping into roles that rookies don't usually step into. So, it's not an individual thing, it's a whole team thing."
On the court, Jap's game has been evolving through ups and downs as he continues to grow into his potential.
"When he's at his best, he's a potential all-star because he rebounds, plays D and can score," said head coach Mike Connolly. "But the thing is when he's not working hard and not competing then he's below average.
"I think part of it with him is his mental focus and how he's doing. If he has that every day, day-in and day-out, he could become a conference all-star."
That's the challenge put before him and Jap knows what he's capable of bringing to the table every night – using his 6-foot-6, 245-pound frame to play the very gritty style that Connolly covets.
"I love playing that way, I love working hard and grinding," he said. "It's always been how I've played and it's always going to be how I'm going to play. I'm not necessarily a pretty player, but I feel like I can get the job done."
Jap's role has grown significantly since his first season (2018-19), but his mission is the same – helping the team win by doing the little things right. He's not going to be the guy who rains threes down and generates tons of points, but he will score hard buckets, defend the paint and take on opposing big men.
Alex Jap puts up a layup against Saskatchewan in a non-conference game last month (Railene Hooper photo).
"I'm always going to focus on what I can do to help the team win," he said. "I'm never going to do more than the team needs me to do.
"We're going to succeed when we're playing as a team and we're not trying to be individualistic, so really that's the focus for all of us, but especially for me. I'm just trying to impact the game where I can, do all the little things right and set a good example for the young guys."
Connolly noted Jap is continuing to grow into his leadership style.
"He's growing every day," he said. "We've worked on his leadership to improve it this week – his communication, organizing us on the court. It's an evolving thing.
"I think now that's the next part he needs to focus on is to make sure other people are getting stuff done and everybody's doing the right things in the right spots. He's improving and we're working with him to help him with that and he's doing a good job."
For the Griffins (0-2) to be successful against nationally-ranked Calgary (1-1) in their home opener this weekend, it all starts in their own end, said Connolly.
"I think we have to be superior defensively and locked in for 40 minutes, not just 30 or 25 or have a quarter or two minutes where we break down," said Connolly. "That will lead us to our offence and we can get some scoring and get running.
"We've been working on our defence, being a little bit more aggressive and being able to get some easier shots. We have to rebound, play D and then move the ball."