After playing as a backup for most of his career, UCLA basketball’s redshirt junior Prince Ali is ready to show that he not only has the experience but also the skill to stand out in 2018-19.
In 2015, the UCLA basketball team landed the 10th ranked shooting guard in the nation, 4-star Prince Ali. This future Bruin was recruited to bring in some much-needed shooting and wing play and would do so, but he would go on an unfortunate journey in the process.
The commitment from Ali was big as it would help the Bruins transition from their shooting guards at the time, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton. Though the 6’4, 190 Ali had talent, he did not see much time behind the more-preferred Alford, a decision that came from his father, UCLA head coach Steve Alford.
In his freshman year, Ali only played 11.8 minutes a game, averaging 3.9 points and 1.1 rebounds. Not exactly the way a player wants to break out onto the UCLA scene. The following year, Ali would look to make a bigger impact especially with the Lonzo Ball-led freshman class that was sure to give the Bruins a boost.
Unfortunately, Ali would not be a part of that epic 31-5 team. In the summer before that season, Ali had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee and was expected to be back by November. By mid-December, he was still not ready to go and Steve Alford announced that he would be redshirting.
With Ali taking a year off, he had time to re-condition his body and get ready for his big return for the 2017-18 season.
Prince Ali’s Career Stats
With the Bruins needing extra help due to three players being suspended for the season, Ali would play a lot more minutes. In the process, he contributed his fair share of stats. As you can see from the chart above, he made a considerable jump in every major statistic from his freshman to his redshirt sophomore year. Despite the increase, he was still considered a role player.
That perception should change for this upcoming 2018-19 season.
With Ali playing in a reserve role for the Bruins last season, especially with the team without a lot of their expected talent, the same was projected for the upperclassmen in 2018-19, especially since the Bruins had another influx of young players coming to Westwood.
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Jules Bernard and David Singleton came in to help out at shooting guard and the Bruins return point guard Jaylen Hands and small forwards Chris Smith and Kris Wilkes. With the Bruins having a lot of depth at those spots, was Ali going to have a chance at being a major contributor? If UCLA’s exhibition game was any indication, then yes.
If you did not know about Ali before, then one might have mistaken him for a newcomer to the team. The junior got the start in that game and he did not squander any of his opportunities when he was on the court. In 20 minutes of game time, he put up a team-high 25 points on 10/17 shooting with an impressive 4/8 from downtown. He also added 7 rebounds and 2 steals.
The numbers were great but his demeanor was even better. He had the attitude. He had confidence. He had the knowledge that an upperclassman should possess. He just looked different. He looked good enough to, in fact, be the best player on the UCLA basketball team.
If this is what he is bringing UCLA this season, then Bruins fans should feel good about the direction the team is going. It was already known that they had talent, but that talent is young. As one of the older guys, his knowledge and leadership will be paramount in UCLA’s hunt for Steve Alford’s first regular season Pac-12 Championship.
The Bruins still have a long way to go and it will be interesting to see how they perform against tougher opponents, but with someone like Ali in UCLA’s arsenal, they should be able to fight, fight, fight all season long.