Aly Khalifa has one of the better nicknames in recent BYU basketball memory. It’s hard to argue against the “Egyptian Magician.”

Khalifa himself is quite fond of the moniker, feeling that it suits him better than his last one.

“(People) used to call me the ‘Egyptian nightmare’,” the Cougars center explained. “But I don’t think I was a nightmare since I’m not dunking on people or anything.”

The Alexandria, Egypt, native Khalifa may not be a typical big man, but what he lacks in conventionality he more than makes up for in productivity. He’s quickly become a key piece to BYU’s operation in his first season in Provo, serving as a prolific passer and steady defensive presence for the 11-1 Cougars.

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“His IQ expands throughout the whole court,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said. “... I really do think he brings another 25-30% to our offense ... (he) opens up a whole new space for us to attack.”

Khalifa, who transferred to BYU from Charlotte this past April, has fit like a glove within the Cougars’ efficient scheme, posting a team-best 143.4 offensive rating over 34.8% of total minutes played.

Even while dealing with his own health concerns, Khalifa was thrust into a more demanding role for BYU following an injury to Foussyeni Traore in November’s Vegas Invitational. In six games as a starter, Khalifa has averaged 4.8 points and 3.5 rebounds, but it’s his passing that has made him such a weapon.

‘He’s the best passing big man in the country and the world,” BYU point guard Dallin Hall said. “You can’t replicate it, you can’t find it anywhere else.”

Front court players don’t usually have Khalifa’s same quarterback-like ability to thread the needle and find open teammates. He’s dished out 34 total assists on the young season to just two turnovers, placing him first nationally in assist to turnover ratio (17.0) by a massive margin— Utah State’s Darius Brown II is in second place with a 5.82 mark, more than 11 assists behind Khalifa.

“What he does is special, Hall said. “I don’t think it’s just the limited amount of turnovers, I think it’s the kind of passes he is making, it frees us up a lot as shooters ... in the past we haven’t been able to make the kind of cuts that we have this year because of Aly’s passing ability.”

The Magician’s magic is spreading quickly. Thanks in large part to Khalifa, the Cougars rank first among all Division-I teams in assist to turnover ratio at 2.25, a remarkable turnaround for a team that coughed up more than 14 turnovers per night a season ago.

“When you see somebody that’s so expert at something like he’s been over the first third of the season, it just has a contagious effect to it,” Pope said. “Guys start to think about the game that way. He’s ultimately going to make (fellow big men) Atiki (Ally Atiki), Fouss (Traore), Townsend (Tripple) and Marcus (Adams, Jr.) that much better.”

As pointed out by Robby McCombs of Vanquish the Foe, Khalifa is on pace to shatter the all-time NCAA assist to turnover season mark of 5.17. His effort isn’t just impressive — it’s approaching historic.

Khalifa admits that doesn’t pay much attention to the stats, as there are more important matters at hand. “I gotta keep getting assists for my teammates and keep getting them open.”

“He’s got a humility and joy about him that’s special,” Pope said. “He’s a big-time human being.”

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Even with limited mobility due to lingering knee issues, Khalifa has still proven effective as a defender, helping keep BYU’s front court resistance intact without Traore.

“He’s a really great leader and he’s super smart, and that’s super fun as a point guard to have a big man who’s so smart because he can understand the game defensively and talk us through things,” Hall said. “We’re super grateful for our coaches going out and recruiting this guy because he’s been such a great fit for our team on and off the court.”

The Cougars have just one remaining non-conference test before beginning their inaugural Big 12 gauntlet. Khalifa’s dynamic contributions and veteran savvy will soon be more valuable than ever before, but the impending pressure is far from his mind. The Magician is having too much fun to be bothered.

“The fans show me how much they appreciate what I’m doing for the team,” Khalifa said. “I really love it and I’m enjoying it here right now at BYU.”

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