When freshman center Ali Brigham steps onto the court this season, she will continue a family legacy that started when her father took his first steps on the Smith Center hardwood in 1991.
As a senior forward in his second year with the Colonials, Bill Brigham reached the Sweet 16 of the 1993 NCAA Tournament. Now, Ali Brigham said she is seeking to make her own mark on the program’s history and help the team raise an Atlantic 10 and NCAA Championship banner.
“He definitely tried to keep the doors open for me for other schools just so I wasn’t sold just because he went there,” Brigham said. “But I got on campus, and I met the coaches, and I met the team, and it’s just honestly like I would have come here anyway if my dad didn’t play here.”
Ali Brigham was coached by her father growing up, and he became an assistant coach on her high school team while she was in her final two years at Franklin High School in Massachusetts. She said playing without her dad on the sidelines will be an adjustment, adding that she often looks to him during games for encouragement and advice.
“I’d be looking around to see where he was if I messed up or something, and I’d just be waiting for him to tell me something to fix,” Ali Brigham said. “It’s definitely a little weird though, coming here and not having him on the sidelines. I was telling one of my coaches, ‘Do you notice that I look at you every single time I mess up?’ because of my dad – I’m just used to that.”
Ali Brigham said she doesn’t feel the weight of expectation to live up to her father’s legacy on the men’s team, but she does hope to one day eclipse his achievement with an NCAA Tournament ring of her own.
“My family, we’re very competitive,” Brigham said. “So if my dad made it that far, I just want to make it even farther. I wouldn’t say pressure, but we’ll say competition.”
Fans aren’t allowed to watch games in person due to the pandemic, meaning Bill Brigham can’t attend her games at the same gym that he once played in her first year with the team. Ali Brigham said her dad hasn’t missed one of her games since sixth grade and missing him in the stands this season will be “upsetting.”
“We’re just working with it,” Ali Brigham said. “It’s 2020.”
Bill Brigham said if some states allow spectators at games, then he will travel from his home in Massachusetts to be at all of them. He added that he took solace in the fact that unlike during his career, he can take advantage of technology to watch the games.
The athletic department released an online fan experience dubbed the “Suite Life” that provides an ESPN+ account to watch games, merchandise and virtual fan events.
Bill Brigham said GW started scouting Ali when she was entering the ninth grade. A finalist for the Gatorade State Player of the Year in Massachusetts during her senior year, she had no shortage of offers from Division I programs but eventually decided on being a Colonial, Bill Brigham said.
He added that when his daughter’s coordination grew to match her 6-foot-4 frame at the end of her sophomore season, GW started to show more serious interest. Ali Brigham would graduate high school as the highest scorer in Franklin High School boy’s or girl’s basketball history, netting 1,692 points and ripping 1,276 boards.
Despite her dad’s history at the University, Bill Brigham hadn’t been to Foggy Bottom until he attended a recruiting trip for Ali, he said. He said the visit was his first time setting foot on campus since his graduation in 1993, and he got lost trying to find his way from the hotel to the Smith Center.
“She was like, ‘Dad you should know, you went to school there,’ and I was like, ‘Well that was 25 years ago, hon. Things have obviously changed since I was there,’” Bill Brigham said. “It was definitely nice to be back, and again I’m looking forward to actually going and watching a game in there.”
The size of the University and its location in the nation’s capital were attractive factors to both of them. Bill Brigham said he also targeted schools where his daughter could make an immediate impact while also growing as a player.
“The bigger thing that we always try to talk to her about is that it’s not just getting there,” Bill Brigham said. “It’s about once you’re there, we need to find a school that you’ll be able to step in and contribute.”
Ali committed to GW on her father’s birthday as a surprise for him, Bill Brigham said. He added that if Ali can stay healthy, no one will remember his feats during the 1990s because of what she could accomplish.
The unique nature of the connection is not lost on head coach Jennifer Rizzotti, who called it “pretty special” to have a former student-athlete see their child follow in their footsteps.
“There’s a sense of pride there,” Rizzotti said. “I know he really tried hard not to push Ali here, but he was very excited that she chose on her own to be a part of this.”