At 29 years old, Kayla Alexander is truly living her passions. Not only is she a world-renowned professional basketball player, she is a published author and illustrator who co-wrote and published a highly acclaimed children’s book titled “The Magic of Basketball”.
As a child, Kayla’s first love was drawing, then as a pre- teen basketball entered the picture and she fell in love with that too. At University she studied to be a teacher due to the influence of a great second grade teacher who had a profound impact on her life. So how does one combine a passion for basketball, art and teaching? Simple, you write a book.
Kayla says “writing ‘The Magic of Basketball’ allowed me to combine my love of the sport and the lessons it taught me along the way with my love of art to reach children.”
While not an autobiography, the story mirrors the life of a young Kayla, her introduction to basketball and all the different gifts and life lessons she learns along the way. It explores themes such as friendship, teamwork and education, while encouraging children to recognize the gifts and opportunities that sports can provide.
Kayla’s story begins in York, Ontario where she was born to Jamaican parents. As a child she would move several times and ended up attending Barry Central High school up to grade 10, Milton District for a semester and later St. Mary’s High School.
Kayla got into basketball at 12 years old when her friend Nicole Murphy invited her to a tryout session. She went along and the rest as they say is history.
I didn’t realize that it was trying out for a rec team, and I wasn’t very good. I should not have made that team, but the coaches said, ‘Kayla we can’t teach height, but we can teach you the game of basketball’. They gave me a chance and I haven’t stopped playing since. – Kayla Alexander
Only a few years after she started playing, Kayla was selected for Canada’s Under 15 National team in 2006. This was the start of many more appearances at the national level as she went on to play for the Under 18 team in 2008 and the Canadian U19 National Teams in 2007 and 2009.
Ultimately, she achieved the goal of every high school basketball player when she earned a scholarship to Syracuse University. In her senior year at Syracuse, Kayla got drafted to the WNBA and started her 5-year run with the San Antonio Stars in the United States.
Kayla’s basketball career has taken her all over the world. She spent 3 years in Russia, a year in France, a few months in South Korea, a season in Australia and most recently she was in Poland until COVID-19 interrupted the sporting world.
Of the countries she’s played in, France and Australia are her favorites. France, because of its unique culture, language and food.
Kayla says “everything in France was like a work of art. The architecture was incredible and there was so much history. And then I fell in love with Australia because the natural beauty there is unreal.”
Her most fulfilling moment playing to date has been qualifying for the Olympics. Kayla got cut twice while trying to make the Canadian national team and this led her to become really frustrated. Still, she did not give up. She went back to the drawing board, worked on her weak areas, and on her third attempt last year was successful in making the national team.
While making the Olympics team has been the highlight of Kayla’s career, she has had a star-studded journey, copping many titles and awards along the way.
She is Syracuse University’s career leader in points with 2,024 points scored in 140 games, 350 blocks, 736 field goals and 552 free throws made. She was the first WNBA Draft selection in Syracuse’s history, having been drafted with the eighth pick of the first round of the 2013 WNBA Draft by the San Antonio Silver Stars.
But the awards and accolades pale in comparison to the satisfaction of making her family, especially her parents, proud. Kayla says her parents are her number one supporters. They always encouraged her to dream, and to dream big.
“My dreams never seemed outrageous or unreachable to them, they would encourage me in everything I did” she muses.
Her sister too, was a guiding light as she charted her path of success. “Every time I told her an idea that I had, whether it was a children’s book, an art business or launching a website, she was with me 110%, helping me at every step of the way” Kayla recounts.
Outside of her family, the team at P.H.A.S.E.1 also played a key role in Kayla’s development and her success. Her first interaction with the team came when she was invited to play in the Rising Star games for young athletes. She remembers this as a fun and competitive event that celebrated young athletes while giving them the opportunity to play at home in front of their friends and families. Kayla says the level of competition she was exposed to through P.H.A.S.E.1 helped prepare her for the world of professional basketball.
She believes that her experiences with P.H.A.S.E 1 helped mold her into what the organization refers to as an ELITE 1. She says her heart is in the game and she tries to use what she has learnt to give back. Her attitude is always positive, she is constantly yearning to be better (on and off the court). Kayla believes she invested in her potential as a young athlete and this allowed her to live out her dream of playing professionally. She was also dedicated to honing her skills and believes this allowed her to have the opportunities that she has today. All these factors combined to allow her to play at the highest level of the game, which she says has been a blessing.
She also has the greatest respect for founder Wayne Dawkins, everything that he has created through P.H.A.S.E 1 and the opportunities he provides for young children. Kayla says he is an example of a positive role model who cares about others and is passionate about the sport.
“I don’t think he gets the recognition that he deserves,” she says.
Kayla goes beyond what we traditionally see as a role model. She lives it by leading with her actions in every way. As an organization we are proud to have Kayla in our first class of P.H.A.S.E. 1 Hall of Fame inductees. – Wayne Dawkins
As Dawkins and others paved the way for her, Alexander believes she has a role to play in the lives of upcoming stars. She says, “now that I am older and I’ve been able to enjoy the game, I think it’s important to ensure that I am also giving back as well, especially to young girls.” This she does through speaking engagements, book tours and school visits to share the blessing of sports and the opportunities it can provide for them.
Reminiscing on the journey and where she is at today, Kayla muses that you have to play the sport because you love it. She says as you get higher up, or when times get tough and work outs get hard, that’s when your love for the game gets you out of bed. But sometimes, the love of the game is just not enough. You also need faith.
Kayla recognizes the importance of faith and a belief system, saying “it gets you through the trials that come with playing a sport and helps with the mental battles.”
She recalls a time in college when she went through a phase where it was the hardest thing in the world to make a layup, and it became a mental battle that she had to overcome. “I had to realize that I was putting too much of my faith and my identity in basketball, and I couldn’t do that. My identity had to lie in Christ, and once I put my identity back in Christ, that changed everything for me” she says.
Alexander explains that she has also had quite a few injuries. She would go through moments where she would ask ‘why is this happening to me?’ but her faith brought her through. Kayla says looking back on those dark times, a lesson always came from the obstacle, whether it was that she had to learn patience or it was an opportunity for her to grow in her faith or spend more time with her family.
Every time I look back, I realize that God was working, in some capacity – Kayla Alexander
In addition to having faith and love for the game, Kayla has three pieces of advice for upcoming athletes. The first is “do things that scare you.” She says in her own life, she has noticed that every time an opportunity comes, and it scares her, it’s something that she should be doing as it pushes her outside of her comfort zone. And every time that happens, she has grown, learnt something and become a better person, whether it was learning a new skill or developing a new character trait.
Secondly, she says young people should not be afraid to make mistakes, as you learn through failure. “I’ve had my fair share of failures. I’ve made mistakes in my life and I’m probably gonna make more in the future, but they are great learning tools. Especially on the basketball court, when you’re making mistakes, that’s how you grow.”
Finally, she urges upcoming athletes to absorb knowledge from those around them – from coaches and just about anyone in their lives who has knowledge to share.
“The Magic of Basketball” by Kayla and Kesia Alexander can be purchased on Amazon or at kaylaalexander.net.