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Bosco’s Corner: Alston may have found new home

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When Rafer Alston failed to get picked up by the Golden State Warriors prior to the start of this NBA season, I have to say I was a little concerned that the professional basketball career of the former Cardozo High School standout was all but over.

But resilient is one thing Alston has proven to be time and again. No matter what obstacle — self-inflicted or otherwise — the player known on the playgrounds throughout the five boroughs as “Skip 2 M’Lou” has proven to be a survivor.

After a terrific stint with the Mobile Revelers of the National Basketball Developmental League, where the 6-foot-2, 175-pound point guard averaged 15.8 points, 9.7 assists and 36.2 minutes in six games, Alston was signed to a 10-day contract by the Toronto Raptors last week.

And once he got back to the big time, Alston not only showed why he belongs there, but that he should be a major player to contend with for the rest of the season.

He joined the Raptors in the midst of one of the worst losing streaks in franchise history. With an injury plagued roster, including a banged-up Vince Carter, the Toronto franchise had lost 11 straight before Alston took the court wearing No. 12 for the first time Friday against the defending Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Nets.

Looking at the result of the game, a 94-79 win for the Nets, it would appear at first glance that Alston’s presence had little impact on the ailing Raptors’ roster. But a closer look at the box shows just how worse things would have been had Alston not been there at all.

While a scorer in high school, Alston had never been known for his ability to put up points. While he did his fair share of scoring at two junior colleges, Ventura and Fresno City, at Fresno State the scoring was left to teammates while Alston went on to lead the WAC Conference in assists in his only year on the Division I level.

But Friday against New Jersey, Alston, playing against one of the elite point guards in the game today, Jason Kidd, the South Jamaica native netted 17 points in 7-of-10 shooting from the floor. He hit 2-of-4 from three-point range and grabbed five rebounds with three assists and three steals.

Alston played so well that he finished with 31 minutes, all off the bench. The lone negative on the night was that he turned the ball over five times — something that can easily be overlooked when considering it was Alston’s first NBA game since last season.

“It was great,” Alston said in one published report. “I’m coming in and right away I’m playing the Eastern Conference champions. I was shooting the ball well, but I was lacking on defense. That comes from being away from the NBA for half a season.”

Prior to signing with Toronto, Alston spent three years in a back-up role with the Milwaukee Bucks. He played sporadically for coach George Karl and after his contract was up after last season, the free agent guard shopped his wares around the league, trying out with the Golden State Warriors, but he never signed a contract with the Western Conference team.

Since then Alston has been seen at a few Cardozo High School games, was drawing income from And-1, a sneaker company, and playing in the NBDL.

Whether or not his performance against the Nets was a fluke or not was put to the test Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, when a largely ambivalent nationwide audience was preparing to watch a day’s worth of playoff football.

Alston proved his worth yet again, this time sparking the Raptors off the bench and helping the team snap its 12-game losing streak with a well-earned 105-91 win.

This time out Alston played 30 minutes, shooting 5-of-7 from the field — including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc — for 12 points, dished out eight assists and grabbed six rebounds. He cut down his turnovers to just three, while registering two blocks.

“It was very big and this was a start for us,” Alston told reporters after the game. “This team was like this last year and before you knew it they were in the playoffs. It is never over until the last game. There is a chance we can turn this around, and it’s a great start tonight.

“The fast break is one of my strengths and getting easy baskets was a plus for us. I didn’t see how many points we scored in the second quarter, but it was a bunch. It is good to get out and fast break and get some strengths going out there on the court.”

According to the Toronto Sun, Alston has “quickly made an impression. His teammates like Alston’s energy and ability to push the ball. ... Alston has already endeared himself to the fans, who marvel at his ball-handling skills and fearlessness.”

His new teammate, Jerome Williams, was quoted by the paper saying, “He’s fun to watch and play with. He’s a true point guard, takes open shots, but not bad shots. He delivers the basketball. I’m not 280 pounds who likes to sit in the post. Get me on the run and that’s what Rafer has been able to do since he got here.”

If Alston continues to impress, it is almost a guarantee that he will be locked up by Toronto for the remainder of the season. And if not the Raptors, there are plenty of other teams that can use a quality point guard, including a team that plays at Madison Square Garden.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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