Alex Klein scored her first big clutch basket when she was about 10, just a few years after she started playing basketball.
Down two points with four seconds left in the game, the coach called the team in for a timeout. The plan was simple: someone would set a screen and Alex would shoot a three-pointer.
“No one thought I’d get it in; I didn’t think I’d get it in. I got it in and I won the game, it was awesome,” she recalls with a grin.
Klein has shown an aptitude for her favourite sport since she was the smallest player on the Waterloo Wildhawks house league team in Grade 2.
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Now 14 years old and 5’10”, she was recently invited to take part in the USA Junior Nationals International Sports Festival in Illinois this summer. Several hundred girls aged 14 to 17 – the best basketball players in the U.S. and Canada – will take part in a weeklong skills competition.
Alex got the invitation to the international festival after a strong performance at the state competition in Michigan in March. The mystery is how the Junior Nationals organization heard of her in the first place; Klein still doesn’t know who put her name in.
Klein hits the court between three and five days a week. She plays for the Waterloo Wildhawks rep team, and she qualified again this year for the tri-county team, made up of players from Brantford, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and area.
The Grade 9 student also played for her school’s basketball team, playing point guard for the senior girls squad. She scored 32 points in the championship final, helping her school, St. John’s Kilmarnock, to its first-ever basketball title.
Both her parents, Michael and Mary Klein, played basketball on rep teams and they thought it was important to put their daughter in sports.
“We … liked to expose her to everything, but when it came to exposure to dance and things like that, she wasn’t interested,” Mary said.
Klein has played in tournaments in the U.S. before, so she knows what to expect; basketball operates on a higher level there than it does in Canada.
“Any time you play American girls, it’s always up a notch,” Mary noted. “They’re so intense there that it’s almost a shock to your system.”
Alex will be in the youngest bracket of players at the Junior Nationals competition. That’s a good thing, she said, because it gives scouts four years to study her and watch her progress.
In addition to individual skills competitions, there are scrimmages and matchups between teams. The girls will also get to experience different coaching styles as they play under various college coaches.
It’s a little too early for Klein to say where she’d like to play after high school; some Canadian universities now offer athletic scholarships, but nothing compared to the full scholarships offered in the U.S.
“We’re not aiming for scholarships in the states at this point, but…” Mary trailed off.
“That’d be amazing,” Alex finished.