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Mahershala Ali
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

If you have ever watched Mahershala Ali as an actor, you understand just how talented he really is. The man is truly on some crazy run of turning everything he touches into gold, but his talents go well beyond the big screen.

Before he started winning Academy Awards — and putting on a masterful acting clinic during HBO’s True Detective Season 3 — Ali was a scrappy, tough-nosed college basketball player for the Saint Mary’s Gaels from 1992-1996.

That’s right, the man who won an Oscar and Golden Globe Award for his supporting role as Don Shirley in Green Book, used to play Division I basketball in the West Coast Conference.

Don’t believe it? The NCAA was quick to put out a quick mixtape of the 6-foot-4 guard named Mahershala “Hershal” Gilmore after the 2019 Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday night.

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Born Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore in Oakland, California on February 16, 1974, Ali went by the name Hershal Gilmore while playing college basketball. He wasn’t a star player at all, but, man, it looked like he played hard.

In 97 career games, Mahershala Gilmore averaged just 3.6 points, 1.1 rebounds, and 0.8 assists during his four years at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California. However, he did shoot a more-than-respectable 35 percent from 3-point range and averaged 7.0 points during his senior season.

It’s crazy to think that Ali, who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his roles in Moonlight and Green Book — both films which won the Oscar for Best Picture — was a college basketball player over 20 years ago, but it’s more than true, although he has since moved well past that life.

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“I went to SMC on a basketball scholarship. But when I graduated, I no longer thought of myself as an athlete. Honestly, I kind of resented basketball by the end of my time there. 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.”

— Mahershala Ali via St. Mary’s College of California

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More often than not, college athletes really do turn professional in something other than sports. It’s safe to say Mahershala Ali chose the best thing possible once his college basketball career was over and that his second Academy Award will likely not be his last.

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With over 10 years of sports writing experience, Brett has covered some of the top local, regional, and national sporting events in the Heartland for both print and digital platforms. He is a graduate of Kansas State University and resides in Austin, Texas.
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