STILLWATER — Gallagher-Iba Arena always felt like home for Alex Budke.
Now more than ever.
The son of the late Kurt Budke, Alex transferred from St. Gregory's for an opportunity to walk on at Oklahoma State. And for the opportunity to return home to Gallagher-Iba, where his dad, killed in a plane crash a year ago Saturday, delivered the women's program to respectability.
“It's a great feeling to come out on the floor in orange before all the, well, we call them family,” Alex said.
It's always been that sort of relationship between the Budkes and OSU. A beloved coach and his family, welcomed and embraced by the community and fan base.
Alex's color of choice — like his sister Sara, brother Brett and mother Shelley — naturally was orange. The fit is even more special now, with Alex in uniform, playing inside the grand old building where his dad did so much good work with the Cowgirls.
“It's something I always wanted,” Alex said of playing for the Cowboys. “Realistically, coming out of high school I knew I wasn't a scholarship player here. But being in a uniform, I've seen all these other great players wear is really fun, and special.”
A first-team All-Centennial Conference pick as a senior at Stillwater High, Budke kept his basketball career alive at St. Gregory's University in Shawnee, playing in 12 games there as a freshman a year ago.
“St. Greg's was a blast,” Alex said. “At the time I committed, I wasn't sure if that was the best decision or not. But after going there a year, it definitely was. I have no regrets about going to St. Greg's. The people there are great. The coaching staff is great. I still keep in contact with them now. And I wish them the best.”
The loss of his father changed things for Alex, with Stillwater and his family foremost in his mind.
“That was a big, big factor of why I came back, to be close to the family and help out as much as I can,” Alex said. “That was probably the main factor in coming back.”
The opportunity to become a Cowboy, with the blessing of coach Travis Ford, cinched it.
“I contacted Coach Ford and had a meeting with him. And he was on board with it,” Alex said. “I knew I wanted to play basketball. And honestly, if I didn't have the opportunity to walk on to this team, I don't know if I'd have come back. But Coach Ford, I can't give him enough credit for allowing me to be on the team.”
Said Ford: “I told him we'd love to have him. He has been absolutely wonderful. He's really helped us in practice. And we've needed him a lot, because of the injuries.
“Wow, is he a hard worker. And hard-nosed, too. He has a good understanding of the game. He's picked things up very quickly. And he can play. So it's been fun to have him around, definitely.”
Approaching the one-year anniversary of the crash that killed his father, assistant coach Miranda Serna and OSU donors Olin and Paula Branstetter, Alex will have to manage the expected flood of emotions from afar. He'll be with the Cowboys at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, a three-game tournament scheduled to start Thursday.
“We'll see what comes,” he said. “I'm not really sure what to expect.”
Overall, Alex said, he and his family keep pressing forward, living the words of Kurt.
“Everybody's doing great,” Alex said. “It's definitely been one of the more challenging years for our family. One thing my dad believed in was being strong. We've tried to keep being strong throughout this whole experience.
“Getting better every day.”
One year later
As the one-year anniversary of the plane crash killed Oklahoma State women's basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant Miranda Serna and program supporters Olin and Paula Branstetter approaches, The Oklahoman looks at the lives of those affected by the crash.
Wednesday: Nettie Herrera still mourns her daughter, Miranda Serna.
Thursday: Kurt Budke's son Alex is playing in front of ‘family' at OSU.
Friday: Catching up with Roshunda Johnson, one of the players Budke and Serna were on the way to see when the plane crashed.
Saturday: The five words Shelley Budke has been living by since the crash.