RICHMOND, Va. – Sally Farrar has gotten used to the occasional honks from other motorists when she’s driving around Richmond. It’s not that she’s a bad driver, and a 1999 Mazda Miata is a perfectly acceptable vehicle.
It’s just that Farrar is getting extra attention since she received her customized license plate that reads “Mo SezNo” from the DMV in April.
Farrar, like many VCU fans, has latched onto likable Rams’ forward Mo Alie-Cox and the associated Twitter hashtag: #MoSaysNo. Born out of our innate affinity for rhyme and, more importantly, Alie-Cox’s penchant for blocking shots, the phrase has fed into VCU fans vigorous embrace of the sophomore from Northern Virginia.
From the minute he stepped his oversized Nikes onto the court, Alie-Cox has been a fan favorite. An improbable genetic combination, Alie-Cox is built like a video-game version of a tight end, with California redwoods for calves and a condor’s 7-foot-2 wingspan that shouldn’t be possible for a man standing 6-6.
Each blocked shot by Alie-Cox touches off an impassioned, united chant of “Mo Says No”. Online, #MoSaysNo references spill onto Twitter like a cascade of new-wave fan art.
“It feels real good,” says a smiling Alie-Cox. “It’s good. I don’t know who made that up. It’s appreciated knowing that the fans love you and they go out of their way to show an appreciation for you.”
Of course, that original hashtag has produced a number of mutations over the past 12 months, including, but absolutely not limited to, posters labeled #MoAlieBlox and memes such as #MoSaysSnow to mark a winter’s storm.
Alie-Cox imposes opponents and endears himself to VCU fans at the same time with his size, energy and paint-protecting ability. He does it all with long dreadlocks flopping around, a booming baritone laugh and a Cheshire Cat smile. But perhaps it’s just easy to like Mo Alie-Cox because he’s an easy guy to like?
Few people know that Alie-Cox, along with teammates Melvin Johnson and Treveon Graham, all criminal justice majors, have been making semi-regular visits to a juvenile detention center in town to talk to the kids about life and to play basketball. It’s hard to tell who benefits more.
“It gives you a different level of appreciation because they’re only two years younger than us. Some of them are older than Johnny Williams, and Johnny’s on our team,” Alie-Cox says. “It makes you think about the opportunity you have here to play basketball, and lots of people love you.”
Few people know that despite his intimidating physical appearance, Alie-Cox is friendly without fail. He’s not the menacing presence at home he is guarding the paint. At home, he passes the time between schoolwork and practice with a steady diet of cartoons and video games. There’s a level of disbelief attached to the notion Alie-Cox is a 6-6, 250-pound man who can squat nearly 600 pounds, and one of his favorite TV shows is “Dragon Ball Z”.
VCU fans have certainly taken a liking to him. Alie-Cox isn’t tough to spot, and it’s not uncommon for students on campus to shout out the occasional “Mo Says No!”
From the time people started shaking his giant hands on his recruiting visit, he knew this place was different. VCU fans have a history of embracing players. From calls of “Shuuuu” to mark a Jamal Shuler 3-pointer to the percussive chants of “LAR-RY SAN-DERS!”, Rams fans have always had their favorites.
For Alie-Cox, it began around the time he proved to be a dreadlocked shot-blocking machine. A blocked shot elicits a response from the crowd like no other play. It can be so violent, so abrupt, so demoralizing for an opponent. One minute you’re visualizing a jumper slipping through the twine, the next, you’re watching it sail into the second row. This is Alie-Cox’s calling card. Last year, he blocked a team-high 48 shots despite playing just 14.4 minutes per game. Per 40 minutes, Alie-Cox averaged 3.8 blocks, the same as Atlantic 10 Conference leader Hassan Martin.
“He’s fun to watch,” beams Farrar. “There’s nothing better than seeing a shot go up to the rim and get knocked to halfcourt.”
Don’t expect VCU fans admiration for Alie-Cox to fade anytime soon. In his second season, he’s been elevated to starter and has shown across the board improvement. The chances are Alie-Cox, a smiling, gentle menace, will be VCU’s rim protector for the next few years.
That’s good for fans like Farrar, who recently met Alie-Cox for the first time during a postgame autograph session and snapped a picture of herself, Alie-Cox and her license plate.
“I just told her I really appreciated her having me on her license plate because don’t you have to keep that for a while,” Alie-Cox said.
“He appeared to find it very funny. He had that huge Mo smile. It was kind of surreal. I was actually very giggly,” Farrar said.
The Internet works fast and VCU fans are industrious folks. There’s no telling where the next three years of fandom will lead their affection for a player like Alie-Cox. But they can probably follow Farrar’s lead. She appears to be setting the curve in this realm.
Just ask her dog, Bella, a half Yorkshire Terrier, half Chihuahua mix that spent Halloween wearing a custom-made Mo Alie-Cox jersey and dreadlocks.