Poly basketball star Rahim “Rah” Ali is keeping up his cardio and has had a ball in his hands more than not this past week.
By now, the senior point guard had firmly believed all the hard work he and the No. 2 Engineers (25-2) put into their 2019-20 season would have already produced a fourth straight Class 3A boys basketball state championship.
But instead, the continuing coronavirus pandemic abruptly put that plan on hold last week when the public schools state tournament, set for March 12-14, was postponed until further notice just hours before Poly was set to take on Northeast in a semifinal game.
Of all the state high school basketball players set to play last week, a strong argument can be made that nobody is missing out on more than Ali.
Consider: With two more Poly wins, he was in position to become the first four-year starting point guard to lead a Maryland public school team to four straight state championships.
And while the days go by and the battle against COVID-19 continues, Ali, an All-Metro first-team pick last season, can’t help but hope to somehow have the chance to close his high school career by playing two more games.
“It just feels like something is unfinished and like … I don’t know, I’m just ready to get the games back in action, so we can finish how we wanted to,” he said.
In his four years at Poly, Ali, who is averaging nine points, eight assists and four rebounds this season, has always been a team-first player and his selfless approach has been vital in the team’s monumental success.
So it’s no surprise that a follow-up question is required for him to express his feelings about the chance, and now likelihood, that he might miss out on the historic individual accolade that was in front of him.
After talking about all the great teammates he has been surrounded by throughout his career and how he enjoyed being able to consistently put the pieces together to make things click, he finally gave in about his own potentially unprecedented work: “I mean, it’s just something that I really look forward to and it’s something I know people in Baltimore and Maryland would never forget.”
The Engineers had — and their hope is to still have — work left in the season to bring home the ultimate prize, and they were on a dominating roll against all their public-school opponents to show they were up to the task.
The team’s only losses came against private-school powers No. 1 St. Frances and D.C.’s St. John’s, while it claimed a 62-60 win over nationally ranked IMG Academy of Bradenton, Florida, on Ali’s buzzer-beating lay-up. The Engineers also plowed through 14 Baltimore City League opponents with a winning margin of just under 48 points. Throw in all the championship game experience and another crown seemed inevitable.
Following last week’s postponement news, Poly coach Sam Brand said the priority was taking the necessary measures to keep everybody safe. But when he spoke of the disappointment of possibly not having the chance to bring home the program’s fourth straight state crown — Ali’s name was quickly brought up.
Getting Ali that individual acclaim was a rallying cry for the team throughout the season.
“We talked about it a lot,” Brand said. “Throughout his time, Dre [Perry] and Demetrius [Mims] and now Justin [Lewis] and Brandon [Murray], they’ve had their things to stake claim to within our program and rightfully so. And this was Rah’s thing — his four years as a starting point guard on four state championship teams. Being able to finish with that kind of achievement, that kind of recognition is something we took very seriously and wanted him to own.”
How do you tell your son, who you watched put in so much hard work and stay on course so efficiently, that he may not get the chance to see it all through?
Rahim’s father, Dante Ali, also holding out hope the tournament will someday resume, hasn’t been able to find the answer yet.
“Rah worked so hard for the moment and then when the moment arrives, it’s postponed. It’s like there’s no conclusion — there’s no win, there’s no loss — it’s such that you’re left with no answer,” he said.
“Usually when something is taken away from you, there’s a consequence to it that you were doing something that you weren’t supposed to be doing. But when you’re doing everything right and get it taken away from you, it’s got to be hard for him to digest.”
The future is bright for Rahim Ali, a "B" student at Poly who enjoyed his finest academic period in the first quarter this school year. Wagner heads the list of his potential college suitors.
As for Ali’s near future, there would be nothing better to once again suit up in Poly’s orange and blue.
“I hope so,” he said. “Man, I really hope so.”