PULLMAN – Before Mahershala Ali was an Oscar-nominated star of the silver screen, he was Mahershala Gilmore – a 6-foot-3 guard on Ernie Kent’s Saint Mary’s basketball team.
Ali received his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance in Moonlight. The prolific actor also is also in box office hit Hidden Figures, in which he plays Colonel Jim Johnson, and has TV roles in House of Cards and Luke Cage.
Ali played for Kent from 1992-96 and averaged 7.0 points per game as a senior. Though that team finished just 12-15, Kent credits its seniors with laying the groundwork for the 1996-97 team that finished second in the West Coast Conference and made the NCAA tournament, losing to Tim Duncan and Wake Forest.
Ali played point guard and off-guard for Kent. His old coach says his defense was his best attribute.
“He was just endless in terms of energy,” Kent said. “Everything that has come true for him he deserves, because he just works so hard and is so focused. That was probably my best team at Saint Mary’s in terms of just chemistry and buy-in, and all of those things they brought to the table. They were a great group that is still friends today and he was one of those guys who initiated that.”
In particular, Ali maintains a friendship with Silvey Dominguez, who was an assistant coach for Kent at Saint Mary’s and holds the same position at WSU.
Ali, whose father appeared on Broadway, was frequently in school plays at Saint Mary’s in additoin to playing basketball. He helped stage a production of Spunk that landed him an apprenticeship at the California Shakpespeare Theater upon graduation.
“He had a vision for what he wanted to do in his life, which was get to New York and be a bigtime actor,” Kent recalls.
Shortly after graduating from New York University’s Tisch school in 2000, Ali got his first on-screen role playing Dr. Trey Sanders in the TV series Crossing Jordan. His first movie role came in 2008 when he played Tizzy in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
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