Q&A with Ali Iken


Take it to the hoop: Ali Iken drives to the basket in the Wolverine’s win over Chaminade. Credit: Bennett Gross

Dario Madyoon

How did you start playing basketball?

I started playing basketball when I was around five or six years old. I had moved here from Morocco, so I had never really heard of it, but all my friends in pre-school were playing, and I went to the park with them after school and started playing. I was in sixth grade when I decided that I would start to take it seriously, because my coach pulled me aside and told me that I could be really good, but I had to stop playing soccer and baseball. He told me that if I wanted to be good, I had to really work on it and specialize because I’m not 7 feet tall, and I can’t jump through the roof. So I decided that I would follow his advice, because it was a sport that I really loved to play.

What has been the most memorable moment during your Wolverine career?

I’d have to say when we beat Chaminade at “The Cage” last year, and it was packed. Their whole entire bleachers were filled. We were supposed to lose, but we came out and played like a team, and we beat them. Or my freshman year, even though I didn’t play, we beat Maranatha in playoffs in overtime 101-100.

Why did you choose to wear number 10?

I’ve actually always worn number 10 ever since I was a kid, but when I was called up to varsity my freshman year, a senior already had 10, so I wore 15 that year. I was supposed to get number 10 the year after that but then Wolfgang Novogratz ’16 came, and he got to wear number 10. I didn’t mind, so I wore 15 again last year. This year, [Head Coach David Rebibo] told me I could have any number I wanted, and I told him I wanted number 10. I started wearing number 10 when I was a kid because soccer was my first sport, and in soccer, the best player always wears number 10, so I just kept the tradition going.

How do you prepare before every game? Any rituals? What’s on the playlist?

I actually don’t listen to music. I prefer to concentrate and clear my mind before the game. I just sit down with a basketball in my hands and look down and think about the game. I think about all the moments in the games that I’ve played before and think about what I can do in this game to make an impact and help my team win. So I just sit there in silence for five minutes.

How do you train during the offseason?

Usually I train by myself. I shoot four to five times a week, and I do conditioning twice a week and weightlifting three times a week, and sometimes conditioning is paired with weightlifting. But this year with Rebibo, he’s been having us practicing three or four times a week as a team at school, and after that I go home and shoot free throws, and during the weekend I go to the track or the stairs to work on my legs.

What has changed since Rebibo came?

There have been lots of changes with Rebibo. Hilliard’s been here a long time, and he had his methods, which were really successful obviously, but the system has been changed around completely. Rebibo is more of a perfectionist; if you’re one step off the midline or you’re one step over it’s not correct. He’s reasonable about it because he’ll stop and show you how to do it. He doesn’t expect you to know, but he makes you look at the details. You have to be instinctive because if you’re a step too late, the other team’s going to score. The defense has changed completely, too. Last year it was more like if you guard your own man, you’ll be fine, but this year it’s a lot more of a team defense. If one man messes up, the whole defense is going be done for, but if everyone does their job correctly, there’s no way the other team is going to score.

What are you going to do differently this year?

Last year  I wasn’t much of a leader since the team had Noah Gains ’15, Spencer Perryman ’15 and Alex Copeland ’15. But this year, I’m going to be the kid with the most experience on varsity because this will be my third year. I’m going to try to convey my experience of what it’s like to play in the Mission League and play at a Loyola game where the entire school is watching. I want to make it easier for my teammates both on and off the court. My freshman year, everyone was doing their own thing based on grade, but I want to mix it up so everyone’s involved, and it’ll be everyone’s team.