By Steve Stone for MSNsportsNET.com
November 26, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Forward Madina Ali is part of a West Virginia women’s basketball squad that will be tested in the upcoming Nugget Classic at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.
The Mountaineers open with a difficult test against Big Ten foe Iowa (4-1) this Friday at 7 p.m. ET. The tournament field also includes Columbia (3-1) of the Ivy League and host Nevada (3-1) of the Western Athletic Conference.
Ali, who averages eight points and is shooting 50 percent from the floor, is confident in the direction this year’s team is going. The Mountaineers (3-1) have defeated Towson (79-42), a quality opponent in Marist (55-50) and recently beat a Duquesne team that is receiving a vote in the Associated Press poll.
Despite falling to No. 3 Ohio State, the Williamsport, Pa., native sees the jelling process unfolding. Many of her teammates, including herself, believe that this year’s chemistry formed immediately, and as each player adjusts to her role, the more the team will progress.
“To kind of compare it from last year’s team, this team has everyone that can do something and contribute something in different ways,” Ali said. “Last year we had it but we didn’t have it. This year we are more together. I can see it and I hope other people can see it. I think it will really help us along the way, and I think we’re only going to get better.”
Last season, Ali was not able to get into the mix after sustaining a season-ending injury to her left shoulder in the beginning of the year. She started two games, but was forced to watch the rest of the season from the sidelines while rehabbing her ailing shoulder.
With her game predicated on aggression in the post and attacking the basket, the effects of her injury have not been seen thus far. She showed her full health when she notched a career-best 10 points in the season-opener against Towson.
One aspect that Ali was able to study last year was the toughness of the post players in the Big East conference. Having not experienced the physicality of a conference game, one might think that the criminology and investigations major would be a little intimidated. However, Ali sees it just the opposite.
“I would say I’m ready for it,” Ali said of battling with the 4s and 5s of the Big East. “Coach Carey has done a good job preparing us for anything that is going to get thrown at us. If not, then we’re going to get after it anyways. I’m prepared for it and I think we’re working toward that now.”
Like all college coaches, Mike Carey gets through to his players by discipline and instruction. The way he gets both across is through a vibrant but fiery manner, not afraid to ingrain each and every fundamental into his player’s heads so they can execute come game time.
Regardless of how his advice comes out, Ali is solely focused on the meaning of his instruction. Underneath the sound of his beaming voice is a coach that the redshirt junior trusts and can help her become a better player.
“If he says something to you, don’t take how he’s saying it, take what he’s saying,” Ali added. “I’ve made that a big part of practice – don’t take anything the wrong way and whatever he gives you, just work with it, fix it and know that it’s going to better you and the team.”
Ali’s knack for buying into the team concept and absorbing any type of mentoring is what can ultimately propel her toward a breakout season. She is the prototypical player that every team has – a hustler who goes after loose balls, takes charges and throws her body across the court. But many of those players fall into the role of being a “scrapper,” and lack many of the other tools associated with offensive execution.
However, Ali is different. Her offensive game is continuing to come along, and she is developing a mid-range jumper that enhances her repertoire. She works hard in the gym day after day because she wants to improve, a philosophy that she possessed while at Daytona Beach Community College from 2006-08.
“After my freshman year at Daytona, I felt I could play Division I basketball,” Ali said. “I like to play, I love to play and something just hit me and I sat down with my coach one day and we talked about everything. I thought I could be this player and hopefully someone sees that I could be this player and hopefully someone polishes me up to be the player they want me to be.”
Despite averaging 13 points and 9.3 rebounds during her sophomore year at Daytona, Ali stepped into the Coliseum gym slightly intimidated during the team’s first official practice last year.
“The first practice I was nervous. I was new to the program and new to the girls, and yes we played in open gym but nothing that had structure to it,” Ali admitted. “Now I’m getting under coach Carey’s fundamentals and getting into the flow of it. Once my first game came and I was undersized, I was like, ‘Yeah, I know where I’m at now.’ I needed to get stronger because I knew what I was up against.”
Luckily, her transition period to Morgantown has been smooth, partially because she is much closer to her home in eastern Pennsylvania. Ali welcomes any support that her family lends to her, especially when they are in attendance.
“A lot of them were here the first game and were really supportive, and they brought all my nieces and nephews,” Ali said of her family that includes nine other siblings. “I’m an aunt to 18 with another one on the way. I had a nice crowd coming out and supporting us, and it felt really good.
Ali and the Mountaineers will have a chance to earn a quality victory in Friday’s opening game against the Hawkeyes, who are led by three guards in Kamille Wahling (18 ppg), Jaime Printy (11 ppg) and Theairra Taylor (10.3 ppg) that are averaging double-figures. The winner faces the winner of the Coumbia-Nevada contest in the championship game on Saturday evening at 10 p.m. ET, with the consolation game played at 8 p.m.