Formidable freshman forward Jap becoming a factor for Griffins as they do battle against unbeaten Dinos

Alex Jap, right, may be learning the ropes for the Griffins as a rookie in the Canada West ranks, but his size allows him to impose his will and carve out space under the hoop (Chris Piggott photo).
Alex Jap, right, may be learning the ropes for the Griffins as a rookie in the Canada West ranks, but his size allows him to impose his will and carve out space under the hoop (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Alex Jap remembers first stepping onto a basketball court when he was six, shooting some hoops in the McNally high school gym where his father Paul coached.

By nine, he was starting to play competitively, joining the Junior Griffins program for extra skill development.

Then he just kept growing.

The result is he's a 6-foot-6, 250-pound big man that the MacEwan Griffins can use to create problems down low for their Canada West opposition. Although a raw rookie and still getting acclimated to the level, Jap has the size and skill to one day make a big impact in the conference.

"I've been around basketball my whole life," the Griffins forward said. "I remember shooting in my dad's gym. He worked at McNally high school and I was shooting there when I was six or seven. I learned how to shoot a ball there. It made me and brother get really good at it.

"Fortunately for me I got tall and my brother didn't," he added with a jesting smile. "I owe a lot to my family, just learning how to play since I was young."

His dad Paul, a retired teacher who coached at a few high schools in the Edmonton area over his career, was an assistant coach on his teams through junior high and high school, while Alex's mom Shannon once played post-secondary basketball for Grande Prairie Regional College.

Jap, who was the leading rebounder for Team Alberta's silver medal-winning team at the 2017 Canada Summer Games, finished his high school career at Bev Facey in Sherwood Park last season and joined the Griffins. It wasn't an easy transition at first.

"I remember my first game still," he said. "We went on a preseason trip to Thompson Rivers (University). That was our first game. I was terrified going in because I had no idea what to expect from a game.

"Now I feel so much more confident going in, ready to go for all the games. I'm not as nervous as I was four months ago."

That's good news for the future of a Griffins team aiming for its first win of the 2018-19 season.

MacEwan (0-12) will face a tall order this weekend, however, when the undefeated defending national champion University of Calgary Dinos (14-0) – who are currently ranked third in Canada – come to town. MacEwan will host them on Friday (8 p.m.) and Saturday (7 p.m., both games in David Atkinson Gym).

Another learning opportunity for Jap, who is in the midst of a season full of them. Coming off the bench for an average of 14.2 minutes a game this season, he has produced 4.8 points and 3.3 rebounds.

"From a basketball standpoint, definitely the pace of play (has been an adjustment)," he explained. "Just getting up and down is so much quicker than anything that I've played in high school."

Playing against fellow big men down low, though, his size already makes him a factor.

"I've noticed a lot of guys are tall, but a lot are also skinny guys, so that works to my benefit," he said. "I've played against some 6-10 guys before I got here, so it's not the first time, but you need to make adjustments around just not being the tallest team in the league."

Long term, Jap is focused on the development process. Those who work hard as rookies are most often the ones playing starring roles as veterans.

"My goal's always to reach my potential," he said. "I've always tried to be realistic about myself and my play so I don't get ahead of myself and stay humble wherever I can.

"I'm just at it every day working hard to be the best player l can be. Wherever that takes me, that takes me. If I'm just a solid rotational player in the league, I'm fine with that as long as I'm enjoying it and working hard."

FREE THROWS … Friday is the Griffins' annual White Out celebration of excellence where top athletes and teams will be feted at halftime of the women's contest.