Disappointing. Normal. hopeful. Downright scary. Kayla Alexander’s last 16 months have had it all.
The Canadian basketball player was part of the team that failed to advance beyond the group stage at the Tokyo Olympics. She then returned to her professional club, a return to consistent high-level basketball after the pandemic impacted previous seasons.
One problem: your team was in Russia, and Alexander had to return home in February after Russian troops invaded Ukraine. The whirlwind ended in Australia in September, where the Canadian women played for bronze at the World Championships, eventually finishing fourth.
Now Alexander can finally breathe.
The 31-year-old from Milton, Ontario has established herself in France’s top flight, long a hotbed of Canadian talent, where she plays for Tango Bourges Basket. She’s two years away from starting her Tall Size clothing business, which she now wants to expand. Recently, Alexander spent a week in Toronto for a relatively low-level Canadian basketball training camp.
“This [was] kind of a nice little breather to step away from our pro teams, get into the Canadian basketball environment, not need a translator and get back to basics,” Alexander said in a recent interview with CBC Sports.
CLOCK | Alexander discusses basketball trip, clothing company:
Departure from Russia
Alexander may appreciate home and its familiarity more now after her 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 you only saw the madness that was going on in Ukraine from your end of the world. But in Russia, life went on as normal. You would never know there was a war unless people were talking about it,” she said.
The urgency to leave came gradually. Alexander felt comfortable in Russia, where she faced top competition, received solid pay, and developed her game.
But soon there was a WNBA bulletin advising its players to flee. Then Canada basketball followed. Alexander’s parents also got in touch.
Alexander’s team, Dynamo Novosibirsk – located in the middle of Siberia – told her her departure meant breaking her contract. As such, it would not pay air fares as usual.
That’s where Canada Basketball and Women’s General Manager Denise Dignard came in.
“[We] helped her find flights as we had access to more options available through our travel agent than someone just looking online,” Dignard recalled in an email to CBC Sports.
“Time was of the essence.”
Eventually, Dignard and Alexander took a route home—from Novosibirsk to Moscow to the Philippines and finally to Toronto.
“When I landed on Canadian soil, I was glad to be home,” Alexander said.
Griner, the two-time American Olympic and gold medalist, remains in Russia following her arrest for carrying vape 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 scary. Honestly, I just pray that sooner or later she gets home safe and sound,” Alexander said.
Alexander joined Lyon in the French league for the remainder of the season before moving to Bourges.
In between, she donned the Canada jersey for the first time since Tokyo 2020 at a major tournament, where Canada, despite finishing fourth and with medal hopes, failed to reach the knockout stages.
Alexander was averaging double-digit points and rebounds per game in the group stage at the World Championships in the fall before running out of gas after eight matches in 10 days.
Canada lost to the USA in the semifinals before losing the bronze medal showdown to hosts Australia. Neither game was close.
“It still stinks because to be honest I felt like we had what it took to get on that podium,” said Alexander. “But yeah, I’ve just run out of breath the last few games. But yeah, I’m really proud of our team for what we’ve achieved.”
CLOCK | Canada falls to Americans at World Cup:
The opportunity to get on the podium was Canada’s first since 1986, at either the World Cup or the Olympics, on either the men’s or women’s side.
It was also Canada’s first major tournament under the stewardship of head coach Victor LaPeña, who was succeeded by Lisa Thomaidis after the Olympics.
“I love the direction that Victor is taking the team in, the style of play they’re asking us to play, the speed and defensiveness – which I think has always been a hallmark of Canadian basketball,” Alexander said.
Canada’s next opportunity for tournament action is the regional FIBA AmeriCup in July, where the goal will be another clash with the Americans with a medal at stake.
“[It sucked] to lose so much. But at the same time it’s like, ‘OK, what can we learn from this? What can we take with us? What are they doing that we can try and implement in our game?'”
Clothing for tall women
At the moment, the 1.80 meter tall Alexander is busy with Tall Size, an online clothing directory for tall women that was launched in March 2021. Alexander’s next goals are to raise more capital and create a couple of pop-ups in New York and Los Angeles.
Alexander and his business partner Nicole Murphy, a longtime friend and also a tall person, came up with the idea during a phone call in which Murphy bemoaned her bare body parts in the winter because clothes weren’t long enough for her.
Now they have 25 brand partners and a goal to make tall women more comfortable in their bodies.
“I just love it because we make life easier for tall women and it’s so much bigger than the clothes,” Alexander said.