Tower Of Power: Hauser graduate putting up huge numbers for Olivet

Alex Gross put together a monster year last season when he averaged a double-double, was the unanimous Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year and earned second-team NAIA All-America honors.

This year, he’s turned things up another notch.

Gross has established himself as an NAIA Player of the Year candidate with another monster season. The senior from Hauser has led Olivet Nazarene to a 30-3 record going into Friday’s NAIA Tournament opener against Lourdes.

“One really nice thing about this year’s team, is everybody kind of has a role, and they get the job done,” Gross said. “One of my roles was to score and rebound as the big guy. But everybody is doing their part. That’s why we are 30-3 this year, and hopefully, we can keep on winning.”

While the 6-foot-10, 246-pound Gross leads the Tigers with 23.5 points a game, he leads all of NAIA with 14.5 rebounds, 463 total rebounds, 108 total blocks and 751 total points. He ranks second in NAIA in blocks per game (3.4) and total field goals (298) and fifth in assists (178).

Gross has three 40-point games, two 30-point games, 29 double-doubles, two triple-doubles and has set single-season school record with 463 rebounds. He ranks fifth in school history in points (1,964), second in rebounds (1,209), first in blocks (361), fifth in field goals (795) and eighth in free throws (363).

This season, Gross has been named CCAC Player of the Week seven times and NAIA Player of the Week three times. He has been named CCAC Player of the Year for the second year in a row and was named to the Bevo Francis Watch List for the top small-school player in the country.

Gross has been efficient. He set goals to shoot at least 60 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free-throw line, and he is shooting 61.8 percent and 82.8 percent.

“Senior year, you want it to be your best year,” Gross said. “I’ve definitely done better in the rebounding category, which going into the season is something I wanted to improve on. I want to get a double-double every game. I knew I had to score for this team to be successful. I definitely am happy with my senior year so far.”

Much of that has to do with Olivet’s ability to put together a CCAC championship, despite losing a couple of starters from last year.

“It’s been great,” Gross said. “This was definitely a new team. We have a lot of new pieces this year. We’re a relatively young team, so coming into the year, I was excited like always, but wondering how it was going to turn out. It’s been a tremendous season.”

The Tigers are seeded second in their region and will host the first and second rounds Friday and Saturday in Bourbannis, Illinois. They hope to fare a little better than they did Gross’ freshman and junior years when they lost in the first round. (The 2020 tournament was canceled because of COVID).

“We’re trying to break that barrier this year,” Gross said. We’ve had a successful season, so hopefully we can continue that on and make a tourney run. I like our chances a lot. We’re a hard matchup for teams. Offensively, we’re very dynamic with our inside-out game. We do a really good job of cutting, so when I get in the post, my guards to a really good job of finding me.”

Because of the uncertainty with COVID last year, the NCAA and NAIA granted their athletes an extra year of eligibility. Gross talked with coach Nick Birkey before the season and told him this would be his last year at Olivet. Gross plans to either play professionally or play as a grad transfer at an NCAA Division I school.

“When coach Birkey and I talked before the season, I decided I was going to be committed 100 percent to this year,” Gross said. “That’s definitely been the focus. Hopefully, I’m playing professionally next year. I’m kind of leaning toward playing overseas, trying to find that best opportunity to make some money doing the thing I love. I’ve talked to a couple agents, but haven’t really gotten the ball rolling on things like that yet.”

The Olivet coaching staff also includes first-year graduate assistant Peyton Russell, a Columbus North graduate who spent a year as an assistant at North and the past two years as an assistant at Perry Meridian. Russell currently is working on a master’s of organizational leadership at Olivet.

Gross said the entire Tigers team has bought in to what the coaches have been telling them.

“It’s been a great senior season, everything I could hope for,” Gross said. “This group is really tight. We hang out after practice. It’s been so fun, just an absolute blast.”