Govan or go home: Lady Topper basketball star is motivated by high expectations

Junior guard Alexis Govan drives to the basket during Tuesday night’s exhibition game against Kentucky Wesleyan. The Lady Toppers won 87-49. 

Kyle Williams

There’s never a dull moment in the life of junior Lady Topper basketball star Alexis Govan, mainly because she doesn’t allow there to be. She’s always smiling.

The jovial 5-foot-10-inch guard and All-American candidate may fool you with her happy-go-lucky off the court mentality, but her demeanor when she steps on the hardwood is all but nice.  

The San Antonio native averaged 20.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game last year while shooting 46 percent from the field in her second season in the red and white. Govan was the third-highest scoring sophomore in the NCAA and was named a member of the 2013 Sun Belt All-Conference First Team. She also became the fourth player in WKU history to record a minimum of 40 points in a single game in an 82-80 victory for the Lady Toppers on Dec. 29, 2012 against North Texas.


Compiling a resume like that in just her sophomore season is unusual.

The 20-year-old guard said she was always taught to keep a smile on her face, but when the grin disappeared, she meant business.  

“One thing my parents always taught me was to always smile when I play,” Govan said. “Like I know how everybody always talks about how I’m always smiling. That’s what gets me going. Once I start to lose that smile — it’s getting real.”

Govan grew up a part of a military family where everyone shared one common discipline — the game of basketball. Both her parents work in the Air Force, and she even draws comparisons to her mother, Stella, who played at the college level.

“Everybody in my family played basketball,” Govan said. “My mom played collegiately for a while. My dad played, my brother, and they’ve always pushed me to be better than them…they compare me to my mom a lot. She was big time when she played.”

Former John Paul Stevens High School girl’s basketball coach Chris Koford, who coached Govan for three years, said her basketball knowledge stems from her family’s sound understanding of the game.

 “It comes from her family background,” Koford said. “She has a great big brother that was really the same way, just tenacious after the sport. Her parents are strong people that supported her 100 percent but didn’t let her get away with anything.”

Govan was forced to use that basketball knowledge at an early stage in her high school basketball career. According to Koford, Govan’s first varsity run came as a first-year player in a high-stakes playoff game after the rotation players got into early foul trouble.

“She was very competitive,” Koford said. “…Her first varsity experience came in a playoff game on the road in a very intense environment…She came in and really surprised us how hard she played. She was playing against seniors and she was a freshman…from there it started. She had a great sophomore year, she had a better junior year and I think she had an even better senior year. She just kept progressing.”

Govan said the opportunity Koford gave her to play in an intense situation as a freshman prepared her for dramatic on-court scenarios in the future.

“That was one of the things that taught me, that if I get thrown into a situation, I have to fly with it,” Govan said. “…I think it taught me a lot about pressure situations — you just have to go with the flow.”

Govan went with the flow in last season’s Women’s National Invitational Tournament opener against East Carolina. She tallied 25 points, 11 rebounds and three assists, including a game-tying three-point shot at the end of regulation to force overtime. The Lady Toppers went on to win by 11 and capture their first postseason win since 2007.

WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard said in a press conference following the WNIT win over ECU that Govan will always go the extra mile to accomplish a goal she sets for herself.

“You all watched Alexis all season,” Clark-Heard said. “She’s a competitor, and she wants to win…She wants to win so bad that she’ll do whatever it takes.”

Don’t let the smile fool you — Govan is a competitor.

The cheerful sharpshooter averaged just 6.5 points and 2.9 rebounds per game on 37-percent shooting from the field and 14-percent shooting from three-point territory in 30 games as a freshman.

Govan, who will be the top scorer among returning players in the Sun Belt Conference this season, improved in every major statistical category from her freshman to her sophomore year, including an increase of 13.8 points per game and a strong increase of 28 percentage points from long range. She also rebounded the ball at a higher rate and improved on the defensive side of the court.

The Lady Topper guard said she credits her coaches for her improvement.

“I think that’s what’s made me the player that I am,” Govan said. “Having coaches that believe in me.

“A lot of it is confidence they instilled in me every time I shot the ball,” Govan said. “…But a lot of that is development. My sophomore summer, I was in the gym all night every night. I stayed here all summer.”

Although Govan is all smiles in regard to her current situation on the Hill, there was a time when she didn’t know if she would ever play for WKU because of to holdups in the recruiting process.

According to Govan and current John Paul Stevens High School girl’s basketball coach Annissa Hastings, Boston College attempted to get in touch with Govan on the first day of the contact period of her senior season, but failed. By the time Govan got back in touch with Boston College, its interest was already invested in another prospect.

Govan said she was then under the impression that all schools had stopped recruiting her, but she had forgotten that the Lady Toppers showed interest late in her junior year. She said she called WKU and the rest is history.

“We had this big phone dilemma where calls weren’t coming in from coaches,” Govan said. “So I thought everybody just had stopped recruiting me.

“I feel like obviously it didn’t work out with Boston College for a reason because I think I was meant to be at Western.”

Govan said that Hastings, who aided Govan during the recruiting process, influenced her to call WKU, which was the first school to show interest in her.

Hastings said she’s happy that Govan is thriving as a Lady Topper and that it came as no surprise to her because she did all that she asked of her.

“She did whatever you told her to do,” Hastings said. “And if you told her she couldn’t do something, she wanted to prove you wrong. Western Kentucky called and it happened. It’s just a great situation for her and I’m glad that she’s excelling there.”

Govan has already been tabbed Sun Belt Conference Preseason Player of the Year and is a preseason First Team All-Conference selection along with junior forward Chastity Gooch.

Clark-Heard said Govan earned the preseason respect because of her constant improvement on what was already an outstanding sophomore season.

“She was really deserving of this honor after the season she had last year,” Clark-Heard said. “…The improvement she has made in her game is impressive, and she has separated herself from the pack as an elite player nationally.”

Govan, who also received preseason honors from College Sports Madness, said that the recognition should help boost the whole team.

“That’s great for the program,” Govan said. “It just gets us more attention, and that’s what we’re trying to do is to get people to realize Western is here and we’re climbing the ladder and we’re coming.”

Govan and Gooch are coming off spectacular sophomore seasons in which they combined for 36.5 points and 17.2 rebounds per game.

Clark-Heard said the dynamic duo was more than impressive last season, but their next goal is to continue that development.

“The numbers that they put up last year were incredible,” Clark-Heard said. “I think the next step for them is the challenge for them to keep getting better.”

Govan has some lofty goals for the future, but playing at the next level doesn’t seem to be one of them.

Although Govan finished last season No. 15 in the nation in scoring and is the fourth highest scoring Lady Topper in program history, but she said she doesn’t think she’s fully prepared for the Women’s National Basketball Association.

“I like to dream big,” Govan said. “But I think that’s really far out there for me…my coaches talk to me about it all the time, but I think, as a junior and where I’m at now, I’m not ready. As time goes on and the more I work, maybe my mindset will change.”

Her mindset may not revolve around the WNBA, but Govan said she still may pursue a career pertaining to the sport she grew up with. Govan said she would likely follow in the footsteps of her current coach and look into taking a seat on the bench alongside her former mentor, coach Hastings.

“I talk to coach Hastings about it all the time,” Govan said. “If I finish my career here, I want to go back and coach with her and help her. She helped me so much that I want to do what she’s done to help me become a better player for other people and do it alongside her.”

With the season nearing, Govan said she’s ready to put the smile away and show the world what she’s capable of as a means of thanking the people that have guided her thus far.

“It’s just everybody around me. Everybody else has such high expectations and wants me to be so good — and I want myself to be good, but I don’t think I dream as big as the people around me, and that pushes me because I don’t want to let anybody down.”