Between the sunny oceanside weather, an aesthetically pleasing campus and a solid academic reputation, Alex Hart already had ample reason to lean towards the University of California-Santa Barbara.
Throw in the basketball program’s past record of success and there wasn’t much else the 6-foot-11 Kelowna product needed to know to make his final decision.
The Immaculata Mustangs’ star post player this week accepted a full-ride scholarship offer from UCSB to pursue an education and play NCAA Div.1 basketball with the Gauchos.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” said Hart, who paid a visit to the UCSB campus on Saturday, before making a commitment on Sunday.
“Their program there has a good, strong history, the team seems pretty cohesive, and the campus is very nice. I feel like it’s the right decision and a good fit for me.”
Hart, who led Immaculata to the B.C. A boys’ basketball title this season, was seriously courted by several other Div. 1 schools, including the University of Hawaii and Washington State.
Had Hart chosen to stay home in Canada and play, the UBC Okanagan Heat would have been his most likely destination.
Mustangs head coach Dino Gini is excited for talented 17-year-old.
“Of course we would love to see him play in our backyard, he knew (Heat coach) Pete Guarasci and I wanted him here, but this is a fit that looks like it is best for Alex,” said Gini, who first coached Hart in Grade 5. “(Santa Barbara) was very aggressive on him from the beginning. Overall, we had 15 Div. 1 schools looking at him. (UCSB) made him a great offer and Alex looks pretty comfortable with this choice.”
Averaging more than 35 points per game this season, Hart was instrumental in leading Immaculata first to the Okanagan title, then the first ever provincial A boys’ championship in the school’s history.
While Hart was often the tallest player on the court, Gini said he brings much more to the game than just physical stature.
“What makes him unique is his mobility and his footwork, which are both tremendous for a tall guy,” said Gini. “He also has an ability to play the perimeter and shoot threes, he has really good touch. He’s worked hard, too. He could have easily fallen back on his height, but he didn’t and just kept working to get better.”
Gini said Hart will only continue to mature and improve as he grows older and gains experience at the university level. Currently weighing in at rather slender 210 pounds, Hart expects to fill out to about 235 or 240, making him even tougher to handle for opponents on the inside.
“Alex really has an unlimited skill set,” Gini added. “When he gets up there (weight) I think you could see something comparable to Kelly Olynyk (Kamloops). If Alex sticks with it, I don’t think the NBA would be out of the question.”
With his university career yet to begin, Hart assures he isn’t looking quite that far ahead.
For now, Hart is simply anxious to get on with the next chapter in his life in Southern California.
“I’m looking forward to living away from home,” said Hart. “It’s not like I’m excited to leave Kelowna, but I know it’s going to be a really good experience for me. I really want to play at the next level and I feel like I’m ready to give it a go. I feel like I’m ready to work hard and make the best of the opportunity.”
Hart is leaning towards taking courses in the psychology program at UCSB. He’ll leave for Santa Barbara in early August.