Monday, January 7, 2008

Talking with Trainor- Derek "Franchise" Alexander


The name Derek Alexander has elicited a buzz in Canadian Ultimate since he appeared at the UPA championships at the tender age of 19. Before that, he dominated in sports such as baseball, football, and basketball.

By the time the 2005 summer season ended, Derek had done things many in ultimate chase into their late thirties. 2 UPA championships with Furious George, a world juniors championship, a world championship, and an appearance at the world games. A starter on a UPA champions located on the other side of his country, Derek also was doing double duty as the captain and leader of local open club Phoenix.

Suffering a serious accident in the fall/winter of 2005, Ottawa's most talented has been out of action for the past two summers. He has spent the time coaching and rehabbing.

Poised for a possible return, it was natural to interview him for this site.

Who was the first to nickname you Franchise?

Wow. That was a long time ago, but I think the first to call me Franchise would have to be Ling Lee (a teammate on WaX). Actually, at the same time I was playing on the high school basketball team and a newspaper article written at the time wrote that yours truly and one other player were our teams "franchise players" so that helped to make sure the nickname stuck.

Who brought you into ultimate?

One of my older brothers, (Billy Alexander) a teammate on Phoenix, introduced the game to me when I was 14 years old. He started playing Ultimate through our high school. Our teacher was Michelle Gauthier, and at the time she played for the competitive womens team in Ottawa (Stella). Looking back and seeing all the great things that I have received from ultimate, I guess it would be an understatement to say I owe a huge thanks to the two of them.

What's your favorite moment from ultimate?

That is a tough question to answer. I have been very fortunate to have a lot of great memories on the ultimate field. I would say my best moment would be my first UPA championship in 2002. I was picked up by Furious George to play for the tournament and it was my first real look at the highest level of ultimate played in the world. I was able to make my way onto the O line as a starting handler and in the semi - finals we played against DOG from Boston. It was a great game played by both teams with only 5 turnovers being made all game and on Universe point we received the disk and worked it down field where I caught the disc on the sideline and was being defended by Fortunate Mueller. I was about 20 yards out of the end zone (early in the stall count) when I saw that Oscar Pottinger had a step on his defender Josh Zipperstein. I placed the disc in the corner of the front end zone and Oscar laid out to catch the game point to send us to the finals, which we ended up winning. I think completing that one play helped me to realize that I could play at that level with those teams. I have to give a lot of credit to the line caller Andrew Lugsdin. To have myself and Oscar (two 19 year olds) on the field on universe point must not have been an easy decision to make. I would not have liked to be in his position on that day.

What's easier- Coaching or Playing?

Without a doubt, Playing is way easier for me. When I am playing, I am able to focus on myself and the situation at hand. I felt that when I was coaching, I had to be everywhere at once. I think that coaching would be something that I would like to do when I can't play the game at a high level anymore and I have learned enough to be able to teach it properly. I am not at this point yet, and probably won't be for a while.

You've always been touted as a player with nerves of steel. Has this always been the case?

I can't remember a time that I was ever nervous for an ultimate game. Not when I played for Phoenix, UPA finals, or World finals for Furious. I guess I have always been like this on the ultimate field, but it is not the same in all the other sports that I have played.

What's your current injury situation? Is a return next year possible?

I have been playing for the past month here in Ottawa and it is very encouraging. My injuries are going to make me a different player in some ways. However, if I can continue as planned I should be back playing fully by tryouts. My elbow and wrist limit my throwing, but in time I am confident that I will be able to work these things out and be back playing a high level of ultimate soon enough.

What was your thoughts on the Worlds 2004 experience?

It was a great experience. I was pleased to be a part of the team and had a great time on and off the field. We had a very strong team and we played well as a team for most of the tournament. I wish the final game could have been a much better game for both the teams and the fans but it was what it was, and we were able to grind it out for the victory. It is great to be a part of a Canadian team at Worlds because we seem to do very well in every division. I personally enjoy finishing ones game and then to going to cheer on another Canadian team. I hope that I am able to make it back to that level and those tournaments again.

What meant more to you- UPAs and having won 2 titles with Furious? or Worlds Gold?

The 2 upa titles mean more to me because I feel that the overall competition at UPA's is much higher then at Worlds. At worlds we are able to beat a few teams by more then 10 points and then win a few tough games to win the tournament.

I felt that every game we played in at UPA's was a battle and either team could have won the game. In order to win UPA's, your team has to play it's best ultimate 4 full days in a row. I know that when we won those two titles, I along with my teammates felt it was a great team accomplishment.

I specifically remember Jeff Cruikshank saying something to me after we won the second one. Jeff said to me and Oscar " You lucky *******! We worked our asses off for this moment for many years and you 2 guys just walk on to the team and win your first 2 UPA tournaments in a row. You guys don't even know what this means". He did not say it in a mean way at all, but I did understand his fustration behind the comment. I knew he was right at the time but now I think I better understand how he felt.

Do you think Canada repeats at Worlds 2008?

I think they have it in them to repeat at worlds. However, I would say that they are not the favorites and a lot of work needs to be done as always. I think this worlds tourney will be much more competitive then in the past. I won't guarantee that Canada will win, but I would not be surprised to see them take the title in Vancouver. For some of those guys it would be a great way to end there careers. If I had to guess I would say Canada, USA, Japan in that order but I might be biased.

Who was your favorite teammate in high level competition? Who was you most respected opponent?

Choosing a favorite teammate is tough because I have had so many great teammates over the years. However, if I had to choose, I would say Oscar and Cruikshank from Furious. I have a lot of respect for Jeff a as a player and as a leader. He is a great motivator and a great talent to play with and he is on the field for no reason but to WIN. I have been lucky to be on a number of teams with Oscar. We won Worlds together in Juniors, Mens, 2 UPA titles together and we were both selected for the past World Games team that went to Germany. He is a blast to be around off the field and he helped my transition to Furious easier. He has a great mind for the game and the athleticism to go with it. I am glad to see that he is involved in the leadership on Furious now and I am sure he will do a great job.

Who is the best player you played with and against?

I would have to say the best players I have played with are Mike Grant, Jeff Cruikshank, and Al Bob (Roberts). The offensive abilities of Mike and Jeff speak for themselves. They are tops in the world. Al's defense can and has won many games at the highest level. From what I am told, I was not even playing ultimate when Al bob played his best defence. Despite this, he is still one of the best in the game. There are so many great players that I have played against. I think it is tough for me to say who the best opponent I have ever played against. Many come to mind. Josh Zipperstein, Alex Nord, Chase, and many players from other countries (I am not even sure of their names). I have not played against or even seen him play yet but there has been a lot of talk about Beau (Kittredge) from Johnny Bravo lately as one of the best in the game.

In your opinion, what does GOAT and other contenders need to do in order to beat Furious? Is it a case of players, mindset, or strategy?

I think they (GOAT) are talented enough to play with most teams in the world and they showed that at this year's UPAs. I think they might need to work a bit on their strategy in order to stop the Furious Offense. I think the biggest thing stopping them is the team mindset. They have lost many games to Furious in the past and I think they just need to get that one big win against them and then the mental advantage that Furious has had in the past will be gone. I think that after the UPA tournament that Goat just had, I think it would be fair to say that future match ups could go either way.

What is your take on Ottawa ultimate and how can it be improved? Are things going in the right direction?

I think that Ottawa has a lot of work to do in the mens/open division. I think we are headed in the right direction by having a coach for the top team, but we need to focus more on the basics of Ultimate as a program. We need to work on our throwing, bailing, cutting, defending. We don't have 50 great athletes to work with, so we need to have a much better skill set and ultimate IQ then we do now. Our players seem to be putting in great effort in terms of working out but the same amount of effort needs to go into the understanding and breaking the game down. I think if we are able to do this, we will have a better chance of keeping good ultimate players in Ottawa (winning games for us) and not in Toronto (winning games for Goat).

What is your current assessment on Phoenix? Is Dave Brook's leadership of both Open teams good for the program or bad?

I think having a coach is great for any team, and a passionate coach like Dave is something Phoenix can really benefit from. I think Dave would be the first one to tell you that he does not know everything about ultimate and that he doesn't always have the answer to your question. He is learning along with us and doing a great job along the way. Last season was his first year with PHX and it was a tough year for him as the team had only 5 returning players. He had to start all over with the team and had decent results for his first year. From what I understand, he demands that his players play hard and practice even harder. I think that with the system and attitude he wants to install Dave as our coach is best for the program. I think year 2 will bring better results then last year and if the players continue to put the time in he will get positive results.


sharpie said...

Great Article...
Good comments.

Andy said...

When do we get a Carl Sharp interview?