Nov. 14, 2008
By Phil Landry
Special to GoHolyCross.com
As a starter since his freshman year, senior Alex Vander Baan is no stranger to high expectations. His production and leadership over his career have led many to believe he is ready for a huge senior season. The driving force behind Vander Baan's success has been his own high expectations of himself. He will look to constantly improve throughout the season in order to bring another Patriot League Championship to Holy Cross.
As a tri-captain of the team for a second season, Vander Baan provides a unique form of leadership. The individual goals that can sometimes get in the way of putting the team first are foreign to his approach to the game. "I am going to do what I have always done which is work hard. I do not really have any individual goals other than to be the hardest worker on and off the court," said Vander Baan. "That goes for practice, a lift or a game, and that is part of being a leader. You need to hold yourself to a higher standard."
As one of the leaders of the team, the native of Uxbridge, Mass., has seen his role change throughout the years. While always providing the team with an example of how to challenge himself and play hard, he now finds himself motivating his teammates in other ways. "This year I have taken it upon myself to be more vocal and be a little more demanding of some of the older guys and more constructive with the younger guys, because they are going to be a huge part of the team and the success we have."
During his freshman and sophomore years at Holy Cross, Vander Baan played in every game the Crusaders competed in. However, he suffered a back injury last season which limited his play, presenting a mental and physical challenge. "It was tough for the team and myself, not knowing if I was going to play day to day. It was an injury where we could not pinpoint the exact problem."
Despite his injury, Vander Baan played in 19 games on the season. He will take the same resilient attitude that led him to average 8.5 points and 5.7 rebounds last year into this season. "Even if we face challenges like injuries, we have to overcome those obstacles and still find a way to win. We need to get better everyday and not let a day go by where it has been wasted because it is such a short season," continued Vander Baan. "Injuries are never an excuse for a team having a tough season."
With the return of key players and the addition of a highly touted freshman class, Vander Baan is excited for the season. As someone who values team chemistry, he believes this team has what it takes to win. "We bring a certain type of player into this program - hardworking guys who value academics - and the whole team has that in common. We all stayed up here this summer and worked out, and it helped integrate the team. Being in the weight room early everyday, grinding it out on the court, that is what really brings a team together," said Vander Baan. "This is probably the closest knit team that I have seen in my four years, and I think that is going to bring success on the court."
The special friendships created with teammates are something that Vander Baan has valued throughout his four years at Holy Cross. "The bond that is created between players is something that I love. There are players who were seniors when I was a freshman who I still talk to."
Vander Baan gives a lot of the credit of the program's attitude and success to coach Ralph Willard. "He is a brilliant coach who has great experience, which was part of the reason I came here from a basketball perspective. More importantly, he uses basketball as a means of teaching us a lot of life lessons off the court such, as being part of a team and adding value to that team," said Vander Baan. "Working hard for one another and having each other's back is something that we take a lot of pride in."
The Crusaders have goals of winning the Patriot League and making the NCAA tournament in March. Vander Baan got a taste of that success his sophomore year when Holy Cross faced Southern Illinois in the first round. Leading the team with a game-high 10 rebounds, Vander Baan is looking forward to another opportunity to play on college basketball's biggest stage. "We are looking to get into the tournament and go a little ways," said Vander Baan. "Other teams at our level have done it, and I don't see why we cannot. We have all the tools this year - the coaching, the players - we are looking to do some damage once we get there."
To accomplish their season goals, the team will have to play each game with intensity and passion. Vander Baan will look to the Hart Center crowd to support the team while they are defending home court. "I would love to see support from the student body again. It makes a huge difference when the Hart Center is packed. The team loves it and we feed off the energy," said Vander Baan.
With senior leadership and talent from all classes, Vander Baan sees this season shaping into a special one. "This team has put in an extraordinary effort so far and if we can continue that effort, we are going to be the best team in the league. I do not question that at all."