Defending the hoop or defending the U.S., Mo just says no

The chant wells up in VCU’s Siegel Center whenever senior forward Mo Alie-Cox blocks a shot, which is often: “Mo says no! … Mo says no! … Mo says no!”

But in many other ways the guy with the hyphenated name, dread-locked mane and intimidating game says yes.

Yes to the fact that a partial academic qualifier, as he once was, can become a candidate for a masters degree.

Yes to the fact that he can become a Secret Service agent someday … or give back to disadvantaged kids in his hometown of Alexandria, Va. … or maybe even develop into an NFL tight end … or (dare it be said) all of the above.

His more immediate concern is a VCU team that in his previous three years as a contributor has won at least 25 games and made the NCAA Tournament – the first two under Shaka Smart, and last year under his successor, Will Wade.

The Rams are 6-3 heading into Saturday’s game on ASN at Old Dominion, and the 6-7, 250-pound Alie-Cox is up to his usual tricks. While neither a big scorer (he averages 9.6 points a game) nor rebounder (4.0), he does one big thing — his 2.2 blocks per game are second in the Atlantic-10 — and a lot of little ones.

And the fans are obviously paying attention.

“I set screens, seal for layups, help a guy out if they get beat (on defense), block a shot, or just lift the energy of the team up with my talk on the defensive end — stuff like that,” he said. “Just seeing people notice that goes a long way in helping build my confidence. When I have confidence and my teammates have confidence in me, it just makes the whole team better and takes us to a whole other level.”

Alie-Cox, who Wade has called “one of the elite defensive players in the country,” has twice made the A-10’s all-defensive team. He has at least two blocks in six games this season, with a high of five in a Nov. 29 victory against Princeton.

“Mo’s just tremendous, the anchor of our defense,” Wade told ASN last month. “Any time you’ve got a big guy in the back who can see everything defensively, it really, really helps. … He does just about everything right, on and off the court. Sometimes we joke as a coaching staff: We have to watch the film, like, three times to find something that he does wrong, so we can correct him in film session.”

Wade brought Alie-Cox, a starter the two previous seasons, off the bench in the first eight games this year, then started him in Wednesday’s overtime loss to Georgia Tech. And no matter his role, he makes his presence felt, on and off the court.

“Our guys look up to him,” Wade told ASN, “because he does what he’s supposed to do, and he knows what everybody else is supposed to do, and he really, really helps those other guys.”

Alie-Cox, twice an A-10 all-academic selection, earned his undergraduate degree in criminal justice in August 2015, and is on track to earn his masters in the same discipline in the spring, along with a certificate in homeland security. Last year he interned at the Virginia General Assembly (along with then-teammate Melvin Johnson) during the first semester, the Richmond law firm McGuireWoods during the second.

The prospect of joining the Secret Service someday — something done by another former teammate, David Hinton – intrigues him. And if not that, he thinks he might want to work with kids. Maybe open a rec center back in his hometown, something like that.

“I grew up in Alexandria, Va., but the part I grew up in wasn’t that good,” Alie-Cox said. “I saw a lot of my friends and fellow peers getting in trouble.”

His own upbringing saw him hopscotch between three high schools before landing at VCU. He redshirted the ’12-13 season while getting squared away academically; according to the school’s web site, he twice made the Dean’s List that year.

Even as his on-court career gained traction there was speculation that football might be in his future. NFL teams have inquired about him, and the Kansas City Chiefs even scouted him at a Rams practice.

“I have a lot of interest in it, but right now I’m just trying to focus on my team here and basketball,” he said. “But growing up as a kid, football was my favorite sport.”

While he last played the sport as a high school freshman — he was, predictably, a tight end and defensive end — it is not unprecedented for a player of his body type and background to star in the NFL. Such current pro tight ends as Antonio Gates (San Diego Chargers), Jimmy Graham (Seattle Seahawks) and Julius Thomas (Jacksonville Jaguars) were solely or largely basketball players in college.

“If I have the opportunity to do that (i.e., play in the NFL), I would do that,” Alie-Cox said, “but my first goal in order to play professionally would be basketball.”

No use saying no to anything. Not yet, anyway.

Share This Story