Alex Gross didn’t build up the nerve to try out for a basketball team until he was in third grade.
But after that, a steady growth process — both in physical stature and in terms of basketball skills — led the now 6-foot-9½ Hauser senior to become the area’s most dominant player. He caps his high school career with The Republic Boys Basketball Player of the Year honor.
“You kind of have to (play basketball) when you’re tall in Indiana,” Gross said. “But I didn’t want to play basketball until about third grade. I joined in third grade because I built enough nerve to actually try out.”
By the time Gross was in the eighth grade, he was 6-1. He grew to 6-4 as a freshman, 6-5 as a sophomore and 6-7 as a junior, when he led the Jets to a sectional title.
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Gross’ father Spencer, who played at Wabash, is 6-10. Doctors told Alex he could grow to between 6-10 and 7-0, so he may not be done growing.
This season, Gross certainly wasn’t finished growing as a player. He averaged 15.1 points a game and led Hauser with 10.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists as the Jets posted a 17-7 record and won the Mid-Hoosier Conference title.
“We didn’t accomplish our ultimate goal, but I had a lot of fun,” Gross said. “We did win the conference, and it was a lot of fun to play with all the guys in my grade and playing for coach (Griff) Roth.”
Hauser, behind 30 points from Gross, went on the road and beat Morristown on Dec. 1 in a game that eventually would decide the MHC championship. But the Yellow Jackets turned the tables on the Jets with a 69-63 victory in the sectional semifinals.
Morristown went on to win sectional, regional and semistate titles and won the Class A state championship Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“It was really tough since we beat them early in the year, but they were the better team when we played them in the sectional,” Gross said. “I felt like that was us this year. I felt like we could have gone to state, but they were just the better team that night.”
On Friday, Gross’ future plans became a little clearer when he committed to Olivet Nazarene, an NAIA Division II school in Bourbannis, Illinois. He picked Olivet over offers from NCAA Division II schools Union (Tennessee), Malone (Ohio), Milligan (Tennessee) and Kentucky Wesleyan, as well as NAIA Lincoln Christian (Illinois).
Gross plans to major in business or sports management at Olivet. He said he chose the school for its Christian atmosphere and the education and because it was the best fit for him basketball-wise.
“All that put together, it just felt like home,” Gross said. “I want to get in the NAIA Tournament, and I want to further my education so I can get a really good job. I think Olivet is the best place for me to do that.”
Griff Roth, who retired following the season, was the JV coach for Gross and the other players in this year’s senior class when they were sophomores. Roth moved up to the varsity last season and led the group to a sectional title.
Roth said Gross worked hard every day in practice and had a great attitude.
“He was our key player,” Roth said. “Everybody was looking to stop him, and that gave Mason (Sherman) and Justin (Compton) an opportunity to do their thing. Being 6-9 and a great passer who could see the floor really well, we were just real fortunate to have someone like that in our program.”
Alex Gross, Hauser: The senior averaged 15.1 points and led the Jets with 10.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists.
Justin Compton, Hauser: The senior led the Jets with 15.8 points and averaged 7.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists.
Mason Sherman, Hauser: The senior averaged 13.5 points and 2.4 rebounds and led the Jets with 1.7 steals.
Matt Frost, Columbus East: The junior led the Olympians with 12.0 points and 5.7 rebounds and averaged 2.0 assists.
Drew Hasson, Columbus East: The senior averaged 11.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals.
Thomas Myers, Columbus East: The senior averaged 8.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals.
Jaylen Flemmons, Columbus North: The senior led the Bull Dogs with 11.8 points and 6.0 rebounds and averaged 2.6 assists.
Bailey Hester, Columbus North: The senior averaged 9.9 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists.
Blake Barker, Columbus North: The freshman averaged 10.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists.
Christian Cox, Edinburgh: The senior led the Lancers with 15.0 points and 5.8 rebounds and averaged 1.5 steals.
Coltan Henderson, Edinburgh: The junior averaged 12.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists.
Travis Wilson, Jennings County: The senior led the Panthers with 17.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
Matt Cornett, South Decatur: The senior led the Cougars with 22.3 points and 13.8 rebounds.
Ezra Scully, Brown County: The senior led the Eagles with 12.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists.
AJ Goecker, Trinity Lutheran: The junior led the Cougars with 15.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists.
Brown County: Isaiah Keefauver. Columbus Christian: Conner Emily. Columbus East: Drew Johnson, Max Nolting. Columbus North: Trenton Kelley, Trey Vincent. Edinburgh: Bryce Burton. Hauser: Sam Meek, Andrew Titus. Jennings County: Landin Hacker. South Decatur: Lane Lauderbaugh. Trinity Lutheran: Jacob Rowe.