Rusty Johnson walked into the Pike Middle School gym to see what kind of help would be coming.
The then-new Northwest girls basketball coach inherited a program in 2013 that lacked wins, competitiveness and hope. But as he watched the eighth grade team go through workouts, it didn’t take long for him to identify Alexus Brigham.
“You usually don’t get a good feel for the good players, but when I saw Alexus, it was different,” Johnson said. “She wasn’t physically like the rest. She just stood and had a game that I thought could translate to the varsity level.”
Johnson didn’t miss on this evaluation. Not only did the 5-6 freshman make the varsity team, she emerged as the most valuable. Brigham averaged 10 points, 3.5 steals, 2.5 rebounds and 3.7 rebounds as Northwest made a miraculous turnaround.
The Lady Texans missed the playoffs with a 15-15 record and missed the postseason by one game. As far as Brigham was concerned that was just part of the plan. Had she not made the varsity, she would have been disappointed. And it didn’t matter if Johnson was in the gym or not.
“I really felt like if I played like I could, that I could make the varsity,” Brigham said. “Everything just gave me a lot of confidence.”
You could call this summer a period of transition. No longer is she going to be the youngster just playing on the varsity. Playing with her AAU Texas Elite team, Brigham has to continue to develop her game both as a player and as a leader.
With more teams likely to play her to cut off her drive to the goal, she’s focused on her jumper. But as that part continues to mature, that will make her a more difficult match-up.
Still, leadership takes a different tone. Usually, younger players are a little more reserved and typically aren’t sure when to vocally step in.
But Johnson wants Brigham to use this time to become more assertive and to challenge and encourage teammates. Her game already earns respect. Now, the verbal part will add to it.
“She’s so well-rounded,” Johnson said. “She does it all. There’s really no limit to what she can do that will help us. But you could tell in the offseason workouts that she was holding more kids accountable in practice. Whoever she works with, whether it’s a Division I player or an incoming ninth grader, she’s going to make everybody better.”
Brigham is ready to take that next step. She went through the ups and downs of a 30-game varsity season. A slump in January revealed her character. At a time when Northwest was toward the bottom of the district standings and Brigham was in a slump, she managed a way to get through it.
She had to keep grinding through each game remaining confident. After all, slumps are temporary. Perhaps that’s all Northwest needs in 2014-2015 to become a playoff team. Well, that and Brigham becoming more of an offensive presence.
“I just went day by day and didn’t get down on myself,” she said. “I didn’t feel the pressure to stay on the varsity. I just learned from every experience and knew it would help me. If we take what we did last year and get better, we can go to the playoffs.”