Sagemont star guard Prince Ali is getting the last laugh on critics who two years ago dismissed him as a one-dimensional dunker who would never win anything.
Fueled by the verbal shots leveled at him after leaving Pembroke Pines Charter for Sagemont, his third school in three years, Ali, a 6-4 UCLA signee, stands two wins away from winning his second state title.
“I heard it all,” Ali said. “I was called selfish. They said I can’t shoot, that I’m just an athlete. All he wants to do is dunk. He’s not a good basketball player.”
Ali silenced the critics last season when he was named the Class 3A final four MVP after leading Sagemont (34-0) to the state title and first undefeated season in Broward County.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Ali enters this year’s state tournament averaging 22.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and three assists — 3A Player of the Year-caliber numbers and will lead Sagemont (28-3) against Cardinal Mooney Catholic in the 3A state semifinals in Lakeland on Tuesday.
Ali set the stage for a 18-point, fourth-quarter outburst that resurrected Sagemont in the Region 4-3A final by pouring in 29 points, highlighted by seven dunks, in a 80-52 victory over Westminster Christian in the Region 4-3A semifinals.
Then Ali, who was questioned about his leadership skills earlier in his career, was the one exhorting teammates as he fueled Sagemont’s dramatic rally against Florida Air Academy in the regional final.
During the fourth-quarter outburst, Ali hit two huge three-pointers, including one while getting fouled for a rare four-point play, and the winning free throw to score 18 of his 30 points and stun the Falcons 66-65.
Although blessed with incredible explosiveness Ali admits his game needed an overhaul upon his arrival at Sagemont. At times, Ali forced the action by dribbling into double teams, and his body language on the court left something to be desired when things didn’t go right.
Ali gives Sagemont coach Adam Ross much of the credit for taking his game to a new level. Ross set the ground rules from the first day of practice and demanded more of Ali, including him taking a more vocal leadership role.
“I had heard Prince didn’t care about winning and only cared about personal accolades,” Ross said. “That couldn’t be further than the truth. He is a hyper-competitive kid who genuinely hates losing. His understanding of the team game has really improved. Initially, he felt he had to make every play and create every scoring opportunity for himself. He realized the game is easier when you find your place in the system.“
Ali has harnessed those athletic talents and along with A.J Jurko (11.3 points per game) and three new starters — Keyshawn Evans (14.8 ppg), Tyler Polley (10 ppg) and Stefan Britvar, has a Sagemont team many counted out this season poised for a repeat.
“I can’t even be mad at the critics,” Ali said. “Some people don’t understand the game. I guess it comes with the territory. All I know is Coach Ross has brought out the best in me. We have had some heart to hearts.
“He told me I was a good basketball player with the potential to be a great basketball player. At the time everybody was saying I was great. Being around great players since I have been at Sagemont and learning how they do things has helped me.”
Coral Park 4, Westland Hialeah 3
CP: 001-003-0 -- -- 4-7-1
WH: 000-010-2 -- -- 3-6-1
WP: Kevin Garriga (1-0); Sv: Brandon Gomis (1). Top performers: George Curbelo 2-2; Brian Grafton 2-3, 2 RBI; Gomis 2-3, RBI. CP 3-3.
Jackson 10, Archbishop Carroll 8
AC: 113-110-1 -- -- 8-7-5
Jax: 001-133-2 -- -- 10-10-8
WP: Yoel Mendez (1-0). Top performers: Tito Ortiz 3-5, 2 RS, RBI; Joel Rivera 2-4, RS, 2 RBI; Lester Ayerlis HR, RBI. Jax 4-3, AC 0-5.
St. Brendan 6, SLAM 5
SLAM: 100-020-2 -- -- 5-8-4
SB: 004-001-1 -- -- 6-4-0
WP: Andres Fernandez; LP: Chauncey Nunez. Top performers: Ryan Hernandez 1-2, 2 RBI; Jose Garcia (S) HR, 2 RBI; Andres Santana (S) 1-2, 2 RBI.
Miami High 9, Ferguson 7
MHS: 500-040-0 -- -- 9-6-4
Fer: 102-112-0 -- -- 7-8-2
WP: Jose Barrios; LP: Kristian Cartelle; Sv: Chris Rodriguez. Top performers: Oney Pino 2-4, 2B, 2 RBI; Argenis Hernandez 1-3, HR, 3 RBI; Christian Torres 1-3, 2B, 2 RBI. MHS 2-3.
TERRA 8, Southridge 6
SR: 200-400-0 -- -- 6-7-0
TER: 051-020-x -- -- 8-13-2
WP: Veronnica Sanchez (3-1). Top performers: Sanchez 9 K; 2 RBI, 2 RS; Victoria Conway 2-3, 2B, 2 RBI, RS; Samantha Garcia 2-3, 3B, 2 RBI, RS. TER 6-1.
Archbishop Carroll 11, Carrollton 1: Top performers: Maddie Hefty 10 K, 2-3, 3 RBI; Jennifer Blanchard 2-3, 3 RS; Nicole Kozak 2 BB, RS, RBI. AC 2-2.
LaSalle 6, Westminster Christian 1: Sebastian Felder 8-2; Andres Garcia 8-1; Felipe Pineiro 8-1; Anthony Rusch 8-4; Wilson/Pineiro 8-1; Youseff/Arciniegas 8-6.
Miami Beach 6, Ferguson 1: No. 2 Singles: Omar Zarif 8-1; 3: Daniel Bertak 8-3; 4: Omar Azzaoui 8-4; 5: Jonathan Hirschenson 8-1; No. 1 Doubles: Barone/Wald 8-2. MB 3-0, Fer 2-1.
LaSalle 5, Westminster Christian 2: Alina Montoto 8-1; Paula Lisazo 8-4; Clara Alvarez Alonso 8-1; Maya Fayad 8-2; Lisazo/Alvarez Alonso 8-3.
Gulliver 7, Lourdes 0: Alyssa Pujals 8-0; Ysabel Gonzalez Rico 8-1; Lindy Lyons 8-0; Tatiana Ramirez 8-1; Taylor Hill 8-0. Gul 5-0.
BOYS’ WATER POLO
Gulliver 15, Olympia 8: Andres Guerra 5 goals; Alexander Guerra 4 goals, 3 assists; Felipe Tilkian 2 goals, 3 steals.
Gulliver 5, Boca Raton 4: Alexander Guerra 2 goals, 5 steals; Jan Strusinski 4 steals; Brett Gilbert 8 blocks. Gul 3-2.
GIRLS’ WATER POLO
Gulliver 14, Boca Raton 2: Alexandra Guerra 5 goals, 7 steals; Nicole Aulicino 3 goals, 2 assists; Andrea Guerra 7 blocks, 2 steals.
Gulliver 7, Winter Park 2: Alexandra Guerra 4 goals, 2 assists; Samantha Rosenberg 4 goals, 2 assists; Nicole Aulicino goal, 2 steals.
Gulliver 11, Lake Nona 1: Samantha Rosenberg 7 goals; Daniella Fuertes goal, 2 assists; Andrea Guerra 10 blocks, 3 steals. Gul 4-1.
Coral Reef at Sunset, 3:30
Doral at Westminster Christian, 3:30
SLAM at Dade Christian, 3:30
Homestead at Central, 3:30
Killian v Palmetto, 3:30 (Coral Reef)
Hialeah Educational at South Miami, 3:30
Miami High v North Miami, 3:30 (Pepper)
Archbishop Carroll at Palmer Trinity, 3:30
Sagemont at Westwood Christian, 3:30
Western at South Plantation, 3:45
Northeast at Stranahan, 3:45
Cardinal Gibbons at Belen, 4
Somerset at Redlands Christian, 4
Keys Gate at Ransom Everglades, 6
Norland v Mounring, 6:30 (Pepper)
Monarch at Ely, 6:30
Deerfield Beach at Coral Glades, 6:30
West Broward at Coral Springs, 6:30
Cypress Bay at Fort Lauderdale, 6:30
Nova at Plantation, 6:30
Hollywood Hills at South Broward, 6:30
Hialeah Gardens v Miami Beach, 7 (Flamingo)
Varela at South Dade, 7
Dr. Krop at Hialeah, 7
Florida Christian v LaSalle, 7 (Barry)
Stranahan at Dillard, 3:45
Northeast at Boyd Anderson, 4
Chaminade-Madonna at Cardinal Gibbons, 4
Deerfield Beach at Pompano Beach, 4
Hollywood Hills at South Broward, 4
Coral Springs Charter at Cypress Bay, 6:30
Monarch at Fort Lauderdale, 6:30
Miramar at McArthur, 6:45
Nova at Plantation, 6:45