Versatility gives rise to a new Alex Easterbrook

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo

Alex Easterbrook’s game hasn’t produced many frowns this season. The Fort Lewis College senior combo-guard is averaging 10.2 points per game and has a 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio, good for fifth in the nation.

By Ryan Owens Herald staff writer

Alex Easterbrook may have been improperly typecast.

She spent most of her first three seasons spelling point guards off the bench, working primarily as a ballhandler, which she’s incredibly adept at.

But this year, born of a combination of her skillset and a lineup need, she’s rebranded herself as a true combo guard, starting every single game and averaging 10.2 points per game while spending a good chunk of the game off the ball.

Meanwhile, Katerina Garcia, whom Easterbrook spelled off the bench last year more often than not, serves as the primary ballhandler, with Erin Curry handling a bevy of the secondary point-guard responsibilities.

“When I first watched her play, you know, she was just a natural combo guard,” FLC head coach Jason Flores said. “She wasn’t better with the ball in her hand or worse; it was just if she had it in her hands early, she was able to run things like a point guard, but she was also effective scoring more out of a wing position.”

And when Easterbrook does handle the ball, she still has a steady touch. Her assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.4 tops the conference and is fifth in the nation, and her 83 overall assists are fourth in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference – a list Garcia tops with 106.

Easterbrook, though, doesn’t have a preference. With the ball or without, she said she’s just fine. And she said she’s enjoyed the chance to play alongside Garcia, something the duo didn’t get much of a chance to do last year with a deeper frontcourt rotation that’s since given way to a four-guard lineup this season.

“I honestly don’t really have a preference,” the senior from Scottsdale, Ariz., said. “I trust the ball in Kat’s hands more than anything, so playing alongside her is something I’ve always liked to do.

“I think we both just like to play fast. ... We tag team and go double-team people in full-court (pressure defense), and we like to run on offense, and she finds people.”

Flores needed that versatility Easterbrook provides, as well, adding that in his system, a player can’t be a “one-trick pony.” And it’s paid off not just offensively but defensively, where she’s a key cog in a pressure defense that’s rounded into shape as the season’s gone on, forcing 19 turnovers per game – good for second in the conference.

“She is our best defender,” Flores said. “Every game, we put her on their best player if it’s not a true post. She’s guarded quicker kids; she’s guarded longer wings.”

Her versatility has led to a drastic rise in minutes from last season. Easterbrook is playing 31.1 minutes per game this year, up from 17.9 as a junior, and she’s started every game after making just 10 starts last season, this year helping lead a team trying to claw its way to an NCAA Tournament berth. While starting isn’t a foreign concept to Easterbrook – she was a four-year starter at Cactus Shadows High School – it’s taken some getting used to after coming off the bench the last three seasons.

“It’s definitely taken a toll on my body,” she said. “I feel old – but in a good way. I enjoy playing a lot of minutes. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. ... I’ve loved every minute of this year.”

Neither would Flores, who counts Easterbrook as the steadiest player on the team this season. And she’s likely the smartest, becoming just the ninth Academic All-American in FLC history after being named to the third team this week.

“I really don’t think we’d have had the success we’ve had without her,” Flores said. “There’s a lot of factors that go into it, but without her, I truly believe that.”

rowens@durangoherald.com

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