As the founder of elite basketball camp Global Squad, John Alexander ('01) uses his expertise and experience to help international students realize their hoop dreams.
In the annals of basketball history at ISB, few names stand out more than those of the Alexander brothers. John, Jeremy ('02), and Joe ('04) all honed their games on the concrete courts of the Lido campus during the late 1990s. Each went on to be recruited by colleges in the US, with Joe going a step further when he was picked by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2008 NBA draft.
While Joe's success is etched in ISB folklore (his #11 jersey was retired in 2008), John's own achievements in the sport are as impressive as they are pioneering.
The eldest of the brothers, John remembers the jolting transition from playing sibling pickup games in Beijing to returning stateside for the first half of his senior year in high school.
"When I was growing up in Beijing, basketball was not as big as it is now in China. There was no access to high-level trainers, nor exposure or pathway to play college basketball," he said.
"If there had been a basketball program when I was in school – even though my brothers and I did play college basketball – I think it would have helped us a lot," he added.
John's brief stint home worked. He was recruited by Washington College, a Division III school in Maryland, where he made an impact on court until injuries cut his career short.
After graduating with a business degree, he found work as an insurance salesman. The company targeted college athletes like John, offering them performance incentives that appealed to their competitive nature.
"It was fun to compete [at work], but I didn't want to talk about insurance all day. It wasn't my passion," he recalled.
John pivoted to another direction, trying to launch a solar panel and energy auditing company that was ultimately "a complete disaster."
As his brothers' college careers took off, John returned to sales – office supplies, this time – to make ends meet.
In 2008, he decided to put his basketball brain back to work on a new challenge by training local youngsters. What started out as a part-time gig gradually grew through word of mouth.
"I thought I'd give it a shot. If it failed, I'd be right back where I was anyway. If it succeeded, I'd be doing something I enjoy and could hopefully live a comfortable life. Mostly, I just wanted to be in control," said John, who lives with his wife and two young daughters in Frederick, Maryland.
"It was hard at first – I'd work 14 to 16 hours a day – and I wasn't making much money. But I stuck with it and began building a good reputation through parents of kids I trained," he said.
From neighborhood clinics to an internationally renowned camp, John's passion has evolved into Global Squad. With 35 high-level coaches and training staff, the program offers international students a taste of US-style competition – and valuable exposure to college recruiters.
Based at The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, Global Squad is an NCAA-certified camp held each July. The program lives up to its name, with its alumni over the past six years representing nearly 50 nationalities.
Students attend the camp for various reasons. Some want to sharpen their skills to cement a spot on their high school varsity team, while others have realistic prospects of attending a Division I or II college – and even turning professional.
For international school students in Asia, the college ball dream is still an elusive one. Despite "Linsanity," Yao Ming, and China becoming the NBA's largest overseas market, the Middle Kingdom isn't on US college recruiters' radar.
However, for a growing number of parents of kids at Global Squad, basketball is a useful foot in the door to elite universities. Two Global Squad graduates currently attend California Institute of Technology, the top university in the world in 2015, where they have roster spots on the basketball team.
Like the Alexander brothers, Global Squad has a close connection to ISB. Since its founding, it has held five Chinese New Year camps at the school.
And while Joe is busy playing professionally in Tel Aviv nowadays, Jeremy, a software developer (and amateur bodybuilder), supports John through designing and maintaining Global Squad's website.
For John, Global Squad is an example of the rewards of vision and determination – something his camp instills in its players.
"It had always seemed like a pipe dream at the time, but I'm glad that I made that decision. I knew I had the experience and passion for it, it was just a matter of working hard to make it happen," he said.