Rafer Alston: "I'm not a bad crazy guy"
What was your reaction when you first heard the news of the trade?
Rafer Alston: I was shocked. I was getting ready early for practice and was pulled off the court and told I was traded. You sign a long deal there and you’re thinking even with the distractions, you put it behind you and work together.
You and Jeff Van Gundy have only had a brief time to talk. Can you take us inside that introductory sit-down?
RA: He just told me we’re wiping a clean slate. Just go out and perform and put things behind you. And I explained to him I’m not this bad crazy guy. If I was that bad a person, trust me, I would not have one year in this league. And I think everyone knows that. My play and my personality prior to last year was built around being a hard-working guy. A guy who loves to laugh, smile and play the game. If I didn’t react the way I reacted (walking out of a December practice that prompted a two-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the club), I don’t think we would be hearing about any of those questions.
RA: Defensively, yes. Coach (Jeff) stressed we’ll be getting after it. Rebounding. Just like in Miami. The voices sound the same. They sound like twin brothers (laughs). I’m not coming here totally blind-sided. I know both Stan and Jeff have been under Pat (Riley) and what they’re trying to accomplish. Stan was great for me and my turnaround in this league. I love him. I’m really grateful for bringing me in there to help turn things around.
This is a tremendous opportunity for you. You’re no longer fighting for a roster spot or minutes or a contract. You’re surrounded by All-Star talent in McGrady and Yao Ming and on a team with legitimate deep playoff aspirations. What does that mean to you?
RA: It’s a chance of a lifetime. You don’t get many chances at a crack at the title or close to contending and I’m happy to be a part of this. I read Dan Marino’s book. He got to the Super Bowl his rookie year and thought he would get back every year and it never happened. I look at that and take that to heart. You never know when you’ll be with a team as talented and loaded as this.
What you see as your role with the Rockets?
RA: I bring energy. An up-tempo style of game. I can defend the ball. I’m coming here to do anything I’m not supposed to do. My role is to be just one of 11. I already have a feel for how these guys like to play. We have a lot of catch-and-shoot guys. Derek Anderson. David Wesley. Jon Barry. I know they like to come down and shoot the ball. McGrady can put it in from the parking lot. We can get Stromile Swift up and down the floor. Get him some easy buckets. I’m looking at getting out of the gates, but if we don’t have it I know how to pull it out and get us a great shot.
Your first breakthrough as a player was on the And 1 streetball tour. Do you like the fact that people still refer to your streetball reputation?
RA: Streetball is going to be something that sticks with me my entire life. I walk down the street in New York City and people will still call me “Skip.” They don’t even know my real name. Some think it’s my third year in the NBA and not my seventh. It’s a brand of basketball that fans throughout those cites – Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, of course New York – they’re familiar with that. They’re streetball guys. Last couple of years I’ve tried to make strides and make my mark and try to find my niche in this league. I just hope people recognize that.
For some fans and those in the game it’s tough to get past the label. What’s more to your game than the And 1 style?
RA: Every year I’ve added something to my game. I’ve toned it down. I’m able to run a team and control the offense. I’m able to defend guards and pick up even though I don’t have that big muscular frame. I’ve added the long ball to my game. Shoot the three. If I get it going, I can stroke four or five. I take pieces from other people’s game. I’ve added the floater in the lane. I try to improve each summer.
You’ve had to fight your way into the NBA from the bush leagues when many didn’t believe you had the discipline in your game to earn a permanent spot. How does that experience still impact your game?
RA: It makes me humble. It makes me continue to work. I love playing throughout the summer. The road was brought on me by myself. I don’t encourage young kids to take the road I did, by no means. The mistakes I made coming out of high school not completing my core courses and forced to go to junior college (before landing at Fresno State). I’ve had to play catchup ever since but I can live with that and learn from it.
Keith Calkins is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
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