Bella Alarie has become a must-see player for the Princeton women’s basketball team. It’s something her coach, Courtney Banghart, has known for a while, but the rest of the world is just finding out.
Banghart began to sense that more people were becoming aware of her star player during a recent conversation with Chris Young, the former major league pitcher who played basketball and baseball at Princeton.
“He goes, ‘I’d pay to watch two players in college basketball: Zion Williamson and Bella Alarie,’ ” Banghart said.
Almost every basketball fan knows Williamson, Duke’s top player and probably the N.B.A.’s next top draft pick. But Alarie? She is a 6-foot-4 junior who has developed into a player capable of lifting the Tigers to national prominence. On Saturday, against Cornell in the semifinals of the Ivy League tournament, she grabbed eight rebounds and scored a game-high 21 points, shooting 9 of 10 from the field, in a 68-47 victory to advance to the finals.
Observers believe she has a chance to do something no Ivy League player has done since Allison Feaster, who graduated from Harvard in 1998: represent the conference in an extended W.N.B.A. career.
This development was less a dedicated plan and more a series of serendipitous choices merged with hard work. Alarie, a multitalented two-way player of the kind sought at the professional level, did not tower over her peers when she was growing up. She remembers being only a bit taller than them but says she cannot recall a time when she did not have a basketball in her hands.This is your last free article.SUBSCRIBE TO THE TIMES
Her father, Mark, a former Duke and N.B.A. player, set about making sure she could play at any position.“I talk to W.N.B.A. coaches all the time about her,” Princeton Coach Courtney Banghart, right, said of Alarie.CreditChris Szagola/Associated Press
“I think a lot of it was really focusing on my guard skills,” Bella Alarie said. “I think my dad knew that from a young age, that developing skills early would really benefit me in the long run. We didn’t really know how tall I would be, so I’m really lucky that I kept growing.”
Her slight build meant that during her high school career at National Cathedral School in Washington, she drew interest from Ivy League teams, including Harvard and Penn, but did not get so much as a letter of interest from her father’s alma mater. Anything beyond playing in college was not on her radar when she arrived at Princeton.
“In high school, I never really thought of myself as someone who would achieve the things I have so far in college,” Alarie said. “And when I was getting recruited, I did really want to put an emphasis on getting a really well-rounded college experience. The Ivy League I was really drawn to from the beginning. Princeton, Penn and Harvard — those were definitely the schools it came down to.”
Things began to change for Alarie after she won Ivy League freshman of the year honors, then was selected to play for U.S.A. Basketball in the under-19 FIBA World Cup.