Basketball floors always have a nice, shiny finish and basketball shoes get great traction on it. It gives off a high-pitched squeak as the shoes slide ever-so-slightly against the lacquer.
But the floor isn’t as forgiving or quaint when it comes to bare skin, and the resulting irritation it causes turns a bright red and lasts for while.
For a certain type of player, those red patches – floor burns in the vernacular – are a badge of honor.
East Valley senior Alex Rankin is one of those players.
Rankin earned a spot in coach Rob Collins’s starting lineup as a freshman by playing tough, enthusiastic, hard-nosed defense and, four years later, that’s still her primary motivator.
“I just love to play defense,” she gushed. “I love getting my hands on every ball I can, disrupting passing lanes and making it tough for opposing players.”
In the beginning, Rankin was content to play defense. As a freshman starter among upper-class teammates, she admits, it didn’t feel right to take charge on offense and, instead, deferred to her teammates.
When you consider Rankin’s standout play on the EV girls soccer team, where she was the Great Northern League’s offensive player of the year last fall, it’s easy to understand the love of playing hard-nosed defense.
In fact, Rankin isn’t alone as a two-sport standout. Teammates Chelsea Love and Taylor Morscheck also were first-team All-GNL soccer players and Skylar Bastin was a second-team pick. Maddie Bastin, Skylar’s twin sister, suffered an ankle injury and missed much of the fall season.
“We’ve had a lot of success with soccer players playing basketball,” Collins said. “I think the games are similar. They’re about finding the open player and defending passing lanes. I don’t know that much about soccer, but I’ve watched them play games.”
Rankin’s defense-first mindset was welcomed on the basketball court immediately. But Collins said he always hoped for more.
“I’ve always been really pleased with her defense,” Collins said. “She makes a couple two or three steals a game and she gets a hand on tons of passes. She dives after loose balls and really gets after it.
“I’ve been after her to take a little more charge on offense. It wasn’t until the last couple of games of last season that she started doing it and she’s carrying on with it so far this season.”
The lone senior on the Knights’ roster, Rankin averages more than 12 points per game through East Valley’s first nine games, but it’s more a byproduct of her leadership ability than her desire to score points.
“I just realized at the end of last year that I was going to have to take on a bigger role in our offense if we were going to be successful,” she said. “Before, I didn’t think it was my place to do that because we had better offensive players.
“We have a lot of sophomores on this year’s team and I need to take on some of the scoring load.”
Rankin scored 15 points and hit a free throw to force overtime in last week’s 52-47 home loss to Clarkston.
“I’m not sure what happened to us in that game,” Collins said. “All of a sudden we couldn’t score. We shot 20 percent from the floor and only 50 percent from the free-throw line and we’re a better shooting team than that.”
Rankin has scored more than 20 points twice this season, including a season-high 26-point effort in a win against Rogers.
East Valley’s 7-2 start earned the Knights a good deal of early season attention. But both Rankin and Collins feel the start is just the beginning.
For starters, the Knights finally have their full roster on the practice court at the same time this week.
Maddie Bastin finally is cleared to play and has her required 10 practices under her belt. She should begin playing this weekend.
Skylar Bastin sprained an ankle in the season-opening win over North Central and she, too, is finally back on the court.
“I’m so excited to finally have 11 players on the practice floor,” Rankin said. “We can finally have a five-on-five scrimmage. It will help us so much to be able to go full-speed in practice and have teammates to push us every day in practice.”