Oscar Winner Mahershala Ali Was Once a Division I College Basketball Player
Mahershala Ali played on the Saint Mary's College basketball team from 1992 to 1996
Mahershala Ali is a man of many talents.
The star picked up his second Academy Award in three years on Sunday, cementing his status as one of Hollywood’s leading actors.
But it’s his talents in another field entirely that have surprised the internet.
Ali, 45, was a Division I basketball player back in the day, playing on a college scholarship for Saint Mary’s College in California.
The NCAA reminded the world of his skills on the court Sunday with a vintage clip of some of the star’s highlights from his time as a Gael, which lasted from 1992 until his graduation in 1996.
The Green Book actor was known as Hershal Gilmore at the time (he changed his last name in 2000), and he averaged 3.6 points per game and 1.1 rebounds.
Ali’s time on the court started at Mt. Eden High School in Hayward, California, where he helped take the school’s basketball team to the state championships, and even once played on a traveling team with future NBA Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, he told Rolling Stone in November.
The star has said that throughout high school, he was focused on getting his scholarship, and didn’t think too much about pursuing a career as a professional basketball player.
“Once I got that, I didn’t set a realistic next goal on how to get to the NBA, which is perhaps for the best,” he told GQ in 2016. “I fell into acting. A teacher gave me an opportunity to be in a play and it came a little easy to me.”
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Ali has also said that he was not entirely happy with the college basketball program, as he felt the young players were “disposable, like a product.”
“That felt callous to me. Especially as black boys, I think we felt betrayed,” he told Rolling Stone.
In an essay he wrote for Saint Mary’s College while promoting 2012’s The Place Beyond the Pines, Ali said that upon graduating, he “no longer thought of (himself) as an athlete.”
“Honestly, I kind of resented basketball by the end of my time there,” he wrote. “I’d seen guys on the team get chewed up, spat out and I was personally threatened with being shipped off to the University of Denver. All in the name of wins and productivity.”
Upon graduating with a degree in mass communication, Ali headed east to study acting at New York University’s graduate program — and the rest is history.
The star won his second Oscar for his supporting role as Don Shirley in Green Book two years after winning the same prize for his role in Moonlight.