After a whirlwind stint from Siberia to Australia, Canadian Kayla Alexander is back to basics
Disappointing. Normal. Optimistic. Downright scary. Kayla Alexander’s last 16 months showcased it all.
The Canadian basketball player was part of the team that failed to make it past the group stage at the Tokyo Olympics. She then returned to her professional club, a return to consistent, high-level basketball after the pandemic marred previous seasons.
One problem – his team was located in Russia, and Alexander was forced to return home in February after Russian troops invaded Ukraine. The whirlwind ended in Australia in September, where the Canadians played for bronze at the World Cup, eventually finishing fourth.
Now, finally, Alexandre can breathe.
The 31-year-old from Milton, Ont., is ensconced in France’s top league, long a hotbed of Canadian talent, where she plays for Tango Bourges Basket. She is two years away from launching her clothing business, Tall Size, which she is now looking to expand. Recently, Alexander spent a week in Toronto for a relatively low-stakes Canada Basketball training camp.
« This [was] kind of like a nice little break to get away from our pro teams, get into the Canada Basketball environment, not need a translator, get back to basics,” Alexander said in a recent interview with CBC. Sports.
WATCH | Alexander talks about his basketball journey and his fashion adventure:
Exit from Russia
Alexander may have a heightened appreciation for home and its familiarity now after his difficult exit from Russia. She fled just days before Brittney Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February.
« It’s weird because I’m sure from your end of the world all you saw was the madness that was going on in Ukraine. But in Russia life was going on as normal. You would never know it was going on. there was a war taking place away from the people talking about it,” she said.
The urgency to leave came little by little. Alexander was comfortable in Russia, where she faced high-level competition, received a solid salary and developed her game.
But soon, a bulletin from the WNBA advised its players to flee. Then Canada Basketball followed suit. Alexander’s parents also reached out.
Alexander’s team, Dynamo Novosibirsk, located in the middle of Siberia, told him that leaving meant breaking his contract. As such, he wouldn’t pay for plane tickets as usual.
That’s when Canada Basketball and Women’s General Manager Denise Dignard stepped in.
« [We] helped her find flights because we had access through our travel agent to more options available than were available to someone just looking online,” Dignard recalled in an email to CBC Sports.
« Time was running out. »
Eventually, Dignard and Alexander made their way back – from Novosibirsk to Moscow, the Philippines and, finally, to Toronto.
« When I landed on Canadian soil, I was happy to be home, » Alexander said.
Griner, the two-time US Olympian and gold medalist, remains in Russia following her arrest for transporting vaping cartridges and hash oil through Moscow airport. She was recently transferred to a penal colony in Siberia.
« I can’t even begin to imagine what she’s going through right now. It’s terrifying. Honestly, I’m just praying she gets home safe and sound as soon as possible, » Alexander said.
Alexander moved to Lyon in the French league for the rest of the season before joining Bourges.
Thoughts on the World Cup
In the meantime, she donned the Canadian jersey at a major tournament for the first time since Tokyo 2020, where Canada failed to reach the knockout stage despite finishing fourth and entering with hopes of medals.
Alexander shone at the World Cup in the fall, averaging double-digit points and rebounds per game in the group stage before running out of gas in an eight-game streak in 10 days.
Canada fell to the United States in the semi-finals before dropping the bronze-medal showdown to the host Australians. Neither game was close.
« It still stinks because I honestly felt we had what it took to get on that podium, » Alexander said. « But yeah, I just got out of breath in the last two games. But yeah, I’m really proud of our team, of what we’ve achieved. »
WATCH | Canada loses to Americans at World Cup:
The opportunity to reach the podium was Canada’s first at a World Cup or Olympics, for men or women, since 1986.
It was also Canada’s first major tournament under head coach Victor LaPeña, who took over from Lisa Thomaidis after the Olympics.
« I like the direction Victor is taking for the team, the style of play he wants us to play, that speed, that defensive spirit – which I think has always been a hallmark of Canada Basketball, » said said Alexander.
Canada’s next opportunity for a tournament is the regional FIBA AmeriCup in July, where the goal will be another encounter with the Americans with a medal on the line.
« [It sucked] lose so much. But at the same time, it’s like, ‘OK, what can we learn from this? What can we take? What are they doing that we can try to implement in our game?' »
Clothing for tall women
For now, Alexander, who is six-foot-four, is busy with Tall Size, an online clothing directory for plus-size women that launched in March 2021. Alexander’s next goals are to raise more than capital and create a pair of popups in New York and Los Angeles.
Alexander and his business partner Nicole Murphy, a longtime friend and fellow tall person, came up with the idea during a phone call in which Murphy lamented the exposed parts of his body during the winter because no clothes were long enough for her.
Now they have 25 brand partners and a goal to make plus size women feel more comfortable in their bodies.
« I love it because we’re making life easier for tall women and it’s so much bigger than clothes, » Alexander said.