When Moonlight star and recent Oscar winner Mahershala Ali helmed the CBS hype reel for Monday night’s NCAA Tournament finale between Gonzaga and North Carolina, it might have seemed like an odd connection.
But Ali, in fact, once could have been among the players taking the floor for college hoops glory.
Before the Hollywood fame, you see, Ali himself was a D-1 college basketballer. The Bay Area native played for St. Mary’s College, which is located in the suburbs east of Oakland and actually competes in the same West Coast Conference as Gonzaga.
He played for the Gaels from 1992 to ’96, averaging a high of seven points per game as a senior. (For a deeper look at his stats, head on over to Sports Reference.)
In a February interview with NPR, Ali discussed his college hoops days.
I wanted to get that Division I scholarship and play ball and go to school for free, and I was always about getting to that next step. … I was always ahead of myself in some way, shape or form, and trying to envision how to get further along and closer to fulfilling that dream of being free and having creative agency, so to speak.
So getting to St. Mary’s College was a big deal for me, because that essentially led to me getting to go to NYU. In my time at St. Mary’s College[I began] drifting out of sports, because it was something that began to feel really finite. I could see that I didn’t have the passion to sustain a career in sports …
At a certain point basketball became the thing I was doing most, but it was really in my periphery. It was really a focus on how to, in some ways, keep moving in this direction towards something that allowed me to express myself in a way that sports didn’t.
And there you have it. The more you know, folks.
Now here’s a look at his Monday night March Madness intro.