When Bra’Shey Ali first walked through the doors of St. Michael Academy three years ago, coach Apache Paschall thought he had his next McDonald’s All-American.
“I felt her and Bria Smith were the same person,” Paschall said of Ali and the Christ the King superstar. “She was just as athletic as Bria. In eighth grade she was grabbing the rim.”
All that promise was temporarily put on hold, though. Ali missed most of her freshman season with a foot injury and her entire sophomore season after tearing her ACL. She never felt 100 percent – physically or mentally – as a junior and many colleges backed off figuring she might do a postgrad year.
West Virginia did not. And that’s why Ali, now with Paschall at Nazareth, verbally committed to the Mountaineers on Feb. 11, spurning offers from Rutgers, Louisville and Kentucky.
“They just always were calling me, checking on me,” the 6-foot Ali said. “Like every day they would call the school and make sure I was doing well in class. It seemed like they cared the most.”
The road back from her knee injury was a difficult one for the Ali. She spent a long time away from her Plainfield, N.J., home and her family going to school and doctors in Manhattan. Ali credited Paschall and the family of teammate Brianna and former teammate Jelleah Sidney with helping her get back. The Sidney sisters both endured multiple torn ACLs.
“I didn’t think that I was gonna come back as strong as I was,” Ali said.
At first, she did not. Paschall said he felt like she “hobbled” through last season and never looked 100 percent. Ali admitted to not feeling herself. But the coach saw a little of the old “Shey” in the fall and that has been the one showing up on most nights this season for Nazareth, which is ranked No. 2 in the city by The Post.
It’s also the one he thinks will show up at West Virginia, a perennial top-25 team that is currently ranked No. 17 in the country..
“They need athletic wings,” Paschall said. “I think if she keeps getting stronger that she can come back to the promise she had as a freshman. … If she plays her game at a high level, she’s still one of the best kids in the East.”
Ali, ranked No. 33 among guards in the senior class by HoopGurlz, has the versatility and athleticism to play inside and outside. She can shoot the ball and block shots on the defensive end with her impressive length. Those abilities have Paschall inserting her back into the starting lineup for the home stretch of the season.
“She is very, very important,” he said. “She has to play good basketball for us to survive in these playoffs.”
Ali wants nothing more than to win a New York State Federation Class AA championship. She could not be on the court during St. Mike’s title run two years ago due to her injury. This is her last chance for high-school glory now that he has decided to forego a postgrad year. Ali said she knew she was ready not too long ago.
“I started playing my regular game,” she said. “I was jumping how I was before. I had confidence. I knew I was ready to go to college.”
And before that, perhaps, to hoist a championship trophy for the first time.