Cade Alger steps to the line, misses his first shot, and now he must mentally focus on his second.
SDSU’s 6’9 sophomore forward is not shooting free throws in front of a sold-out Viejas Arena. He is playing cornhole, or as some call it, bags against professionals, trying to emulate his father’s skill with each toss.
“It’s a very competitive sport. That’s why I like it,” Alger said in an upcoming episode of the SDSU Basketball Podcast. “It’s good mentally for me. You’re by yourself. If you mess up on one bag, you just have to lock in.”
Alger is a competitor. He loves the idea of earning his stripes. Growing up, he has always been the best player on his team in every sport he played. When life has thrown adversity at the Ripon, California native, he has responded with great perseverance.
“Going into my junior year, I had an ACL injury,” Alger said. “This changed my perspective that I really need to work for things. Prior to the injury, everything came naturally to me, and I took it for granted. Once that injury happened, I had to make the decision to have a really good work ethic. That is where it all started for me.”
Alger thinks of himself as an underdog. He was injured, he went to a small high school, and had no basketball offers until Seattle University, with an enrollment under 7,500 students, came along.
After a redshirt season, he left the program. When the transfer portal opened, he received multiple calls, but the one that made his jaw drop was from former SDSU assistant coach Jay Morris.
“That was an answered prayer for sure,” Alger said. “I was not expecting that call. San Diego State was a school that I would’ve always loved to go to, so just getting that call meant the world to me.”
Now through two seasons on the Mesa as a non-scholarship player, he has what he desired, the opportunity to earn his stripes.
Alger is a key piece on the scout team.
By watching film of the opposition, the scout team prepares players in Brian Dutcher’s rotation. They study the star players on the other team, learn their tendencies, and do their best to imitate what they see. If they prove adept enough at the performance, they might catch the eye of the coaching staff and move into the rotation themselves.
“I was in shock when I first came here. I remember on scout team being dead tired after practice,” Alger said.
This is also an opportunity for non-scholarship players, who are just as competitive as their teammates, to give the athletes on scholarship everything they got. According to Alger, he, Jared Barnett, the Broughton twins, Triston and Tyler, and redshirt players Demarshay Johnson and Jaedon LeDee went toe to toe with the starters last season.
Alger understands the scout team role. It is vital and greatly impacts the team’s success in the game. But he is not satisfied and is continually working to prove himself.
“I have goals for myself. I want to be a scholarship player. I want to be a role player,” Alger said. “I want to start one day and play professionally. I have these dreams and aspirations.” But how does someone who scored 17 points in only 32 minutes of action over two seasons get there?
He knows this offseason will be important.
He says he is working on three things. The first is adding weight to his frame. His plan is to be 210 pounds next season, 15 pounds heavier than his listed size at the start of last year.
The second is to continue to develop his outside jumper. “I talked to Coach Dutch and some of the other coaches about it,” Alger explained. “Big dudes who can shoot the three are very dangerous in college whether you play four-man, five-man, or even the three-man. At 6’9, if you can shoot the three-ball very well, it’s dangerous for sure.”
“And then also working on my handle as well. Whether I play the four or five, I want to be able to get a rebound, push the ball up the court, run the floor very well, and be a threat at all three levels. ”
He will not settle for less and will continue to work because winning is in his DNA.
In high school, he was the star quarterback of Ripon High School, where he led the team to the section championship game. His three sisters got him into volleyball. With his height, he excelled as an outside hitter. He was an all-state selection and a two-time league MVP.
But basketball was his calling.
“I really enjoyed working towards it, going in the gym, working on my craft,” Alger said. He admits that he had to question if this was something he really wanted to do. “But college basketball has been really great to me.”
He is self-aware. His time at Seattle taught him that not everything is about basketball.
At SDSU, he found a college experience. He also found a family.
When asked what his favorite memory as an Aztec was, he said, “I love travel trips and hanging out in hotel rooms. That’s where friendships are made. We have downtime to talk and develop friendships.”
Alger originally started playing cornhole back home as a distraction during COVID quarantine. He poured himself into the game because he could not compete with his dad. When he returned to SDSU, he sought out tournaments, and his ability has grown by leaps and bounds. After earning his stripes in “bags,” will it be enough to dethrone his father as the top player in his family? He will find out after the semester when he returns to Ripon during the summer. Alger promises to post the results on social media.
Topping his dad might be a fun challenge for Alger, but it certainly is not his steepest. He has every intention of forcing the coaching staff to carve out a role for him on the 2022-2023 team alongside Aguek Arop, Jaedon LeDee, and possibly Nathan Mensah. A rising junior with three seasons of college basketball under his belt, SDSU’s Cade Alger has earned his stripes.