The Prince Ali experience kicked off in earnest during the 2013 summer. Then, following that solid campaign touring the travel circuit, Ali earned a spot in the national top 100 and drew scholarship offers from Connecticut, Illinois, Nebraska and Georgia.
He followed up the attention from the Huskies with a November commitment, but it wouldn't last despite the fact that UConn won the 2014 national title. Ali reopened his recruitment in time for the 2014 summer evaluation period, thus ushering in a host of new, major collegiate programs.
My first extensive viewing occurred this past April at the Southern Jam Fest. I had expected to see a top 100 prospect, but Ali established immediately that he warranted a spot closer to 50 than 100. From there, he constructed a portfolio that would enable him to land at No. 37 heading into the 2014-15 campaign.
Ali's game generates a lot of heat. He doesn't nonchalantly stalk the perimeter waiting for open jump shots or dribble out top waiting for a ball screen; he gets the ball and goes.
Ali possesses one of the most explosive first steps of any player in the Class of 2015. He loves to drive immediately on the catch, typically blowing past his man and using his leaping ability to make plays at the rim.
He prefers to jump off one foot but also excels at using a jump stop to knife into the paint and then change direction off the bounce. He gathers himself forcefully while planting and thus is tremendous at finishing through contact.
|Ali applies withering pressure to defenders|
His attacking mentality results in numerous drawn fouls, as evidenced by his 124 free throw attempts in 19 games with the Southern Stampede on the 2014 EYBL circuit. He's a 75 percent shooter from the charity stripe, so also he cashes in fairly well on those opportunities.
Meanwhile, he elevates beautifully on medium-range jump shots. Ali prefers to get all the way to the bucket but doesn't have to, and as needed he can stop short and fill it up from 10-17 feet as well.
He could become a baseline specialist in college. His game reminds of the 1980s and 90s wings who'd operate slyly versus zones along the baseline. Ali moves sharply without the ball and, receiving the ball at 10 feet away, can burst into full power mode with just a dribble or two.
Defensively, Ali should become a strong, aggressive matchup versus high-scoring guards. He's less of a lockdown defender on the ball than he is someone who should be able to fight through off-ball screens in order to contest would-be perimeter shooters.
Ali's athleticism and toughness manifest in additional capacities. He averaged five rebounds per game with the Stampede — excellent for a guard.
To round out his game, Ali needs to improve the arch on his three-point shot. He's solid from the middle areas, but his shot tends to flatten out from deep. That said, he converted a solid 38 percent on threes this past spring and summer.
Otherwise, he needs to upgrade his ballhandling. Ali can get rattled versus pressure and is much more comfortable with his right hand than his left. That's a critical issue for him as a guard, given that he isn't particularly tall at 6-4.
He also sometimes makes poor decisions as a passer and must monitor his shot selection, because he's too talented to shoot 45 percent from the field as he did with the Stampede.
Ali has the frame and style to step in and start for a major program as a freshman. Whether he does so obviously will depend primarily on his chosen team's roster composition, but additionally he'll need to clean up some of the noise in his game while focusing on what he does best.
Few players in the country create as well as he does, however, and that's a talent that can't be acquired. His explosive style will enable a coaching staff to pair a pure shooter beside him on the wing, should they choose to do so, even if that teammate lacks ideal athleticism. In that sense Ali's athleticism is both a direct benefit and a "cover" in case his team needs to play a specialist for big minutes.
Long term, there's no reason Ali should fail to become an NBA player. He'll need some time to become a more diverse player and there's no guarantee he'll get there, but already he possesses the most important ability — scoring — a wing player can have.