Ali Ragab has stood out since he moved to Halifax from Egypt two years ago.
Moving to a new country, learning a new language, and trying to make new friends is difficult for a teenager, but Ragab says his height helped him break the ice.
He’s seven feet tall.
“People are interested when they see me. They’ll ask a lot of questions, and I like that, so it was not hard to meet people,” says Ragab.
The 18-year-old J.L. Ilsley High School student plays basketball for Halifax Prep, a member of the National Preparatory Association. The league has produced NBA players such as Jamal Murray and Thon Maker.
Ragab has already had an impact on the team.
“You just know he’s a good kid and you want to be a part of that,” says Naofal (Ming) Folahan, Ragab’s coach at Halifax Prep.
“The other kids they love being around him because he’s a nice guy, he’s always gonna try and help you no matter what. I mean, he’s just phenomenal off the court.”
Growing up in Cairo, Ragab didn’t play sports seriously. But when you’re the same height as Patrick Ewing, it’s only a matter of time before someone notices you.
Folahan first met Ragab at an open invitation basketball showcase at Acadia University. Ragab was playing basketball for École du Sommet at the time, and attended the showcase at the recommendation of a friend.
“Obviously he stands out pretty fast,” says Folahan. “Then you watch him play and you could tell he was not there yet.”
Ragab wasn’t able to dunk the basketball at first.
“I started out knowing the basics, but I was still so bad,” Ragab says, recalling his days of playing basketball in Cairo.
Now, he makes dunking look easy.
“He’s always trying to learn, even if he doesn’t understand what we’re teaching him,” says Folahan. “He never complains … he never quits.”
That attitude has helped Ragab excel in recent games. On Feb. 9, he scored 13 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, and blocked four shots. In the first game of the season, he only managed to score two points.
It helps to be within arm’s reach of the hoop, but Folahan says this kind of rapid improvement over the course of five months is rare. He believes Ragab can go on to play basketball at the university level either in Canada or in the United States.
His impact on the court is clear, says Folahan, “and off the court, the guy is a 90 average student.”
Ragab is scheduled to play his next game on Feb. 27 against London Basketball Academy.