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Aspects of BYU’s Aly Khalifa’s game resembles artistry of late Kresimir Cosic

For a near 7-footer to lead the Big 12 in assist-turnover ratio says tons about BYU’s Egyptian center and his elite passing

SHARE Aspects of BYU’s Aly Khalifa’s game resembles artistry of late Kresimir Cosic
BYU center Aly Khalifa looks to make a pass during a game against Central Florida on Jan. 13, 2024, in Orlando, Fla.

BYU center Aly Khalifa looks to pass during a game against Central Florida on Jan. 13, 2024, in Orlando, Fla. The BYU big man’s ability to distribute the ball is a contributing reason for the Cougars’ success this season.

John Raoux, Associated Press

Less than a year ago, Mark Pope declared that newly signed transfer Aly Khalifa was a 6-foot-11 elite passer.

Deep into BYU’s first season as a member of the Big 12, the best basketball conference in the country, evidence abounds that his statement is true.

Khalifa is the best big man with elite passing skills that BYU has put on the court since Hall of Famer Kresimir Cosic in the 1970s.

BYUWV

Cougars on the air


No. 22 BYU (3-4, 15-5)
at West Virginia (3-5, 8-13)
Saturday, 4 p.m. MST
WVU Coliseum, Morgantown
TV: ESPN+
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM

When it comes to just passing, Khalifa is better.

Oh, he can’t dribble like Cosic. His range from hoop to distance isn’t as consistent as Cosic.  He can’t play five positions like Cosic, including point guard. But he is a better passer.

Heading into a Saturday showdown with West Virginia in Morgantown, Khalifa leads the Big 12 in assist-to-turnover ratio by a wide margin. In league games only — none of that nonconference cupcake schedule — he has 73 assists, averages 4.3 assists with 21 turnovers for a 3.5 ratio.

The next best Big 12 players in turnover ratio are Kansas guard Dajuan Harris and Houston’s Jamal Shead at 2.8. The fourth-ranked player is Oklahoma guard Milos Uzan at 2.7.

Two of Khalifa’s teammates, Dallin Hall (2.5) and Spencer Johnson (2.4), are ranked sixth and seventh, respectively.

It’s easier for a 6-2 guard with ballhandling skills and mobility to create shots for others.  Well, until you get to Khalifa, who is a 7-footer. He’s No. 1. 

This is kind of nuts.

He’s a unicorn. 

One of a kind.

“He has blown every expectation out of the water so far this year in terms of distribution as a player who is almost 7 feet; I just crunched the numbers earlier today,” according to Evan Miyakawa, a college basketball expert on analytics whose work has appeared on ESPN, CBS Sports and The Athletic, speaking to Ben Criddle on ESPN 960 this week.

“There are 12 players … who also are at that mark. All of the players except for Aly Khalifa are basically a point guard who is 6-foot-3 or shorter, and he’s almost 7 feet, 6-11,” he continued. “No other player that tall has been anywhere near that part of our indexing, so what (he is) doing, man, in terms of passing, is unprecedented.” 

“I mean, he’s probably one of the most unique basketball players in college.” 

Khalifa has a gift for calculating the speed of a cutter and anticipating where the ball needs to be delivered so the defense can’t get to it. His height helps, he can perch himself high enough with a defender on him that he can see patterns and plays develop.

No doubt it’s a unique skill.  

Having that gift and executing it are two different things.

Before Houston’s matchup with BYU in Provo, Houston coach Kelvin Sampson told KSL Radio during a pregame interview that BYU’s unique offense and passing acumen was fun to watch.

“They’ve got ‘Jokic Jr.’ out there in (Aly) Khalifa. Then they’ve got Knell, who’s their version of (Steph) Curry, then they’ve got a hard-nosed but tough leader in (Dallin) Hall. ... I just like their team. I like the way they play,” said Sampson.

“We’re lucky to have BYU in the league, not the other way around.”

Khalifa and Cosic?

Former BYU guard Doug Richards played alongside Cosic. He has returned to the former Yugoslavia for Cosic memorial camps and has kept in touch with his family. Watching Khalifa the other night, he told his wife he’d never seen a big man pass like that with high post-cutters since Cosic.

“They’re (the guards) cutting sharp and Khalifa’s looking for that little drop pass, bounce pass. With Cosic, Stan Watts had him at the top of the key or the elbow high post, a little past the foul line and we’d kind of run a triple split where the first guard would pass then cut right by Cosic and the other guard would cut through so close he would rub his defender off and then cut hard to the basket. Cosic would deliver the ball. One time he flipped it right over his head without looking, a one-handed pass.

“The first time we ran that was against Kansas State and St. Josephs, when the Marriott Center opened in the finals of the Cougar Classic. Cosic would get mad and yell at us guards if we didn’t cut and go fast to the basket because he said he was going to get us the ball and be ready and look for it.”

Richards said Cosic would get to the top of the key and dribble the ball like a guard, looking for a backdoor pass to him and Belmont Anderson. He’d make passes behind his back to cutters.

Cosic was a showman, a unique player on both the collegiate and world stage.

Richards sees similarities in Khalifa’s game and Cosic’s.

“I was surprised to see Khalifa bank in a 3-pointer against Houston. He has the range and he’s fun to watch. Cosic would throw those drop passes like Khalifa and he anticipates like Cosic. I remember Cosic had a big smile on his face when we pulled it off. It’s all fun to watch.”

Comparisons aside, those who were lucky enough to witness the play of Cosic will never forget his antics, love of the game and unique playing style. Folks today are seeing another unique player in Khalifa on a nationally ranked Cougars team playing its first season in the Big 12.

Enjoy these moments.

They don’t come very often.

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The Cosic family holds up a framed jersey of Kresimir Cosic during a retirement ceremony at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, March 4, 2006.

Jason Olson, Deseret News