Mahershala Ali one his first Oscar two years ago for Moonlight, though that win was slightly overshadowed by the general chaos that ensued at the end of the broadcast. The 2019 Oscars are tonight, and Ali is favored to pick up his second Best Supporting Actor award in three years for his role as the only good part of Green Book.
Coinciding with the Oscars: the finale to season 3 of True Detective, which has served as a showcase for Ali playing the same character across multiple timelines, while reinvigorating a television franchise that seemed dead in the water. So it’s a big night for Ali the actor, obviously. But the story for some of the week has been about Ali the basketball player.
Ali played for years of college basketball at Saint Mary’s in the 90s, and The Undefeated took a deep dive into his career as part of their #ShowMeTheReceipts series in which they investigate the athletic claims of various celebrities, who all went pro in something other than sports.
Ali played four years at Saint Mary’s, with his best season coming as a senior when he averaged seven points and 1.8 rebounds in 27 games as a starter. His college career ran parallel to Steve Nash at Santa Clara—a fellow team in the West Coast Conference—which means the two-time NBA MVP faced off against the 2017 Academy Award winner for best supporting actor in the movie Moonlight at least twice a year for four years.
That 2017 Oscar earned Ali, a 6-foot-3-inch guard known for his slashing ability on offense and his tenacity on defense, the privilege of being the first Division I basketball player to win an Academy Award.
The consensus: Ali in college was a good athlete and a great defensive guard, who was played a bit out of position to his detriment:
“In terms of the look of a ball player, he had ‘it,’ ” said Ernie Kent, the head basketball coach at Washington State who was about to enter his second year as the head coach at Saint Mary’s when he recruited Ali. “His body was very developed, and once he got into the weight room with us, he got stronger and stronger. We tried to turn him into a point guard, but it would have been a lot better had we just left him in the off-guard position.”
If you want to see some video evidence, here’s a small sample:
Good luck to Mahershala Ali in #Oscars2019 on Sunday!
— TheW.tv (@TheWtv) February 22, 2019
So not only was Ali a legitimate D-1 basketball player, but he’s now one of our best working actors in both film and television. Plus he looks like, well, Mahershala Ali. That’s an unfair amount of talent and skill for just one person, but Ali’s making the most of it.