FLUSHING, MI – As the most experienced player on Flushing’s girls basketball team, much was expected from junior guard Alex Long this season.
Long has been a starter since her freshman year and has been part of the program for a lot longer than that, serving as a water girl for three seasons that included the 2017 state championship campaign before she entered high school.
This was supposed to the year she became the team leader along with 6-foot-5 senior center Becca Morrish. But when Morrish was sidelined with a torn labrum in her shoulder, somebody had to fill the void and Long has been up to the challenge.
She’s been the Raiders’ top rebounder since Morrish went down and has helped Flushing to a 12-3 record entering tonight’s showdown with Goodrich at Raider Fieldhouse.
In two games last week, Long had a total of 43 points and 19 rebounds in wins over Owosso and Linden. Her performance on the boards has been crucial during a five-game winning streak without Morrish, the tallest player in the Flint area.
Long has routinely been grabbing 10-plus rebounds in most games during the second half of the season.
Did we mention Long is doing it despite being just 5-foot-6?
“Honestly, it’s just effort,” said Long, who is averaging a team-high 8.9 rebounds. “You just have to go to the ball. That’s all it is. And just work. Getting position.”
Long has always been an outstanding shooter dating back to her pre-high school days. She’s leading the team in scoring (14.1 points per game), 3-pointers (27) and 3-point percentage (33.8) this season while ranking second in assists (3.0) and steals (3.7).
Yet ask Long what her best asset is and it has nothing to do with her considerable skills.
“I think just the hustle and the effort overall,” she said. “If you have those things, you can do anything. If you have those, the game will come to you, it will flow, and that’s just basically the bottom line of it.”
The loss of Morrish has meant all of the Raiders – not just Long – have had to adjust their game.
In six games, Morrish was second on the team in scoring (11.0), rebounding (6.2) and field goal percentage (59.6). Not having her in the middle to guard the basket has also impacted the Raiders defensively.
“We’ve definitely had to change our game up,” Long said. “We’re struggling now because we’ve had limited posts but it’s helping us develop as a team and players because we’re starting to learn more positions and I think it’s just helping us grow together as a team because we need to know more.”
With Morrish out for the season after undergoing surgery two weeks ago, Shawna Cannon is the lone senior on the team.
Long is one of four juniors and the Raiders count heavily on sophomores Olvia Groulx and Lauren Brokaw as well as 6-3 freshman Sarah Rambus, one of two ninth-graders on the team.
Long remembers what it was like for her two years ago, when she was starting for the defending state champions, so she tries to help the younger players as much as she can.
“I see it from a whole new perspective being on the floor now, seeing all the underclassmen,” she said. “I feel like I can help them because I know what it was like to be in that position.”
Raiders coach Larry Ford initially became aware of Long back when she was playing in the Flushing youth program.
He first saw her when she was in fifth grade, coached her when she was in seventh grade and knew that the Raiders had a future sharp shooter in their midst.
But this year, she’s added much more to her game.
“From this baseline to that baseline, from that sideline to this sideline, she’s meant everything to our team,” Ford said. “She does a lot of everything. She defends, she scores, she rebounds, she leads, she hustles all the time. She’s the complete player. She just has an overwhelming competitive spirit.
“With Becca being out, she’s a senior and was a real presence for us on the inside. Now we’ve got a freshman and sophomore we’re trying to bring along and they’re doing a fine job. But Alex realizes there’s still a lot of youth on the floor. She’s a junior so her scoring has picked up in addition to her rebounding.”
Long is getting some interest from colleges but it’s unlikely she’ll be a Division I player given her size. She’s heard from about a half-dozen schools on the Division II and NAIA levels.
One thing is for sure, she won’t have any trouble getting admitted to whatever college she chooses. Long carries a perfect 4.0 grade-point average.
But before she starts thinking about life after high school, Long would like to help the Raiders make another run in the state tournament.
Since winning the state title in 2017, the Raiders haven’t been able to get out of the districts. Of course, their opponents had something to do with that.
Carman-Ainsworth eliminated the Raiders in 2018 while setting a school record with 22 victories and last year they were eliminated by two-time defending state champion Saginaw Heritage.
Long believes the Raiders have what it takes to change that this year.
“Without Becca, it’s definitely been a big change but if we just keep working hard, if we’re playing our game, if everyone is thinking on the court, I think we can make a run for it in districts and playoffs,” she said.
“If we just keep coming into our games with effort and energy and positivity, I think we can make a run for it.