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From the playground to the pros
by Seth "Soul Man" Ferranti / February 21, 2006

Seth M. Ferranti

Soul Man is the world's leading prison basketball journalist. He also writes for Don Diva, Elemental, Vice and Slam.
If you want the 411 on convicts, street legends, prison gangs, the mafia and life in the belly of the beast, check out gorillaconvict.com/blog
Check out Soul Man's first book Prison Stories and watch out for Prison Basketball, out in March 2007.
You can e-mail him at info@gorillaconvict.com.

Straight out of the Southside of Jamaica, Queens, New York. From the same borough as 50 Cent, G-Unit and the infamous Supreme Team. The baller who first made his mark at the Rucker Tournament, 155th Street Harlem and jumpstarted the current streetball craze with his classic moves on the original And1 Mixtape, we bring you Skip to my Lou.

It’s been a long road for Rafer Alston, from playground legend to the pros, but dude is doing it. Putting in work. Repping the streets in the league. Face it, son brought the street movement to the mainstream, and the streets have shown mad love. Forget LeBron James, Rafer is the chosen one. Still it hasn't been easy.

But let him explain it.

"It’s been somewhat of a rocky process," Alston says. "But that’s only because I made it that way early on. However, at the same time, it’s been a great learning experience for me. I've been able to play basketball at almost every level there is except going overseas. It’s been great. I've had the chance to play so many different styles of basketball and to be able to succeed at all of them has been a dream come true."

And unlike most playground prodigies or hyped high schoolers, Alston has succeeded where most failed. Players with notoriety and street creed normally don't make the transition to the league, but Alston has overcoming tremendous odds and the doubts of all the haters.

And lately, he's been tearing it up for the Houston Rockets. Bringing Rafer Madness to Texas. Have you checked the boxscores recently?

But like the humble dude he is, Alston gives credit for his play to his teammates.

"Oh, it’s incredible, man," he says. "Yao and Tracy make the game so much easier for everybody else, because they draw so much attention to themselves in the form of double-teams."

Alston is playing his part beside the two superstars, and if the Rockets can get everybody healthy at once and gel as a team, they might be able to make a playoff run behind their famous point guard.

On adjusting his game to play under Jeff Van Gundy, Alston says, "It was simple, really. The good thing is that I know how to play the game of basketball. I'm a student of the game, so I already came in knowing what he expected and wanted out of each of his players."

That’s straight up because since Alston came into the league in 1998, drafted by the Bucks, he's bounced around quite a bit trying to find a home. So by doing his homework, he is assuring himself of finding an NBA team to call his own.

The Bucks, the Raptors, the Heat, the Raptors again, and then the trade to the Rockets. For real, it’s only been recently that Alston has been getting the minutes he needs to show that he can run a team. He's learned that the NBA is a business and street legend or no street legend, he has to bring it every night in the league. The competition is ruthless and when dudes are fighting for those contracts, they don't care who you are or where you're from. They just care about getting their man. And Alston, whose alter ego, Skip to my Lou, took the world by storm at the 1994 Rucker Tournament All-Star Game, admits to toning down his game in order to excel in the NBA.

"Yeah, I've toned it down a little, but at the same time I still have a little flair to it," he says. "And now I've added the long-range, three-point shot to my game."

And yes, the vortex spin-moves and hellified crossover are still evident. When Alston dribbles up the court, it looks as if he's got a string attached to the ball as he makes it obey his every command like a magician.

Can you say best handle in the league?

Slam called it way back in 1997, putting the unheard of player (outside of New York) on the cover of issue 22 with the title "The Best Point Guard in the World."

Alston has forever been trying to live up to that. So many expectations. So many dreams. But he's come to a happy medium.

When asked what he thinks he has left to prove in his career as an NBA player, Alston says, "Just being a winner. I want to show people that I can help teams wins, and hopefully I can bring home a title. I think that’s all I have left to do. Win games and win a championship."

The goal of every NBA player. Championship dreams. But Alston has something few other NBA players besides maybe AI have street creed. His legacy as a streetball icon is forever intact.

The skinny kid from Queens, who played just 10 games at Cardozo High his junior and senior years (in which he averaged 31.9 points), who went to two Jucos before landing at Fresno with Jerry Tarkanian in 1997, who received numerous accolades from New York players such as Stephon Marbury and Rod Strickland as a teenager, who fought his way off the playground and into the league bouncing around in and out of the league before finally being recognized as a legit NBA player and signing a multimillion dollar contract in 2004, has made it.

Dude is something special. And looking back, he has some fond memories.

"Well, in New York City, I was one of the greatest that probably ever did it in my time," he says. "And you know, I kind of miss it. It was a great time back then when I was playing streetball. I had so much fun and so many great games out there in front of all those people."

When asked if he still plans on playing at the Rucker, Alston says, “I might. I don't know yet. Lately, I haven't had that true burn to go back there and play again."

Conquered but never forgotten. Alston has moved on. But his moves, his style and the grace with which he played, and still plays, will always be remembered by his numerous fans, all the streetballers that have tried to emulate him, and the NBA players that he embarrassed before he was even in the league.

But what about busting out some of his old Skip to my Lou moves in the NBA?

"Nah, not anymore," he says. "I don't like doing it in games. Only in the summer will I maybe want to break out a few ballhandling moves and streetball stuff like that, but here in the pros I just try to concentrate on getting the job done and helping my team win games. That’s the only thing that’s important to me."

Seth "Soul Man" Ferranti, federal prison number 18205-083, is housed at FCI Loretto. Previously he resided at FCI Fairton, FCI Fort Dix, FCI Beckley and FCI Manchester. He has been a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com since 2003

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