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One thought ran through my head as I watched one of the most exciting conclusions to any NBA game I have ever seen, the Miami Heats Friday night win over the Dallas Mavericks.
I was transported back to the gymnasium at Cardozo High School more than a decade ago when I was visiting with coach Ron Naclerio to talk about the upcoming high school basketball season and one player in particular, sophomore guard Rafer Alston.
I remember being frustrated with Naclerio that afternoon, frustrated that every time I tried to pull some information from him about his team and the upcoming season all he wanted to talk about was this short, skinny kid no one had ever heard of before shooting three-pointers off in the corner all by his lonesome.
The more Naclerio talked, the more I was forced to watch Alston shoot, and the more I watched Alston shoot, I began to realize that the kid, who must have weighed as much as my lunch, just didnt miss.
Flash forward to Friday night and there was Alston, a back-up point guard for the Heat (backup doesnt quite do his role with the team justice, averaging 31.6 minutes, 10.2 points and 4.5 assists per game this season), carrying his club to victory.
The 27-year-old out of South Jamaica scored 15 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and extra session, including five straight points during a crucial span to give the Heat a 113-110 lead.
The capper was the Heats final shot of the game. Trailing by three with only 4.1 seconds left on the clock, fellow Queens native Lamar Odom, a forward with the Heat, was intentionally fouled. The 6-foot-10 Christ the King alum buried the first free throw, but missed the second. Luckily for Miami, the ball bounced off Dallas forward Antoine Walker.
Former UConn star Caron Butler inbounded the ball to Alston, who shook his defender, courtesy of a screen, and found himself pretty much wide open on the left wing, the nearest Dallas player was 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley, the leagues tallest player.
Alston barely stopped his momentum as he fired the desperation three, which bounced off the rim and the backboard before falling through the net with just 0.5 seconds remaining in the game.
The contest, which was televised nationally and played before a packed house at American Airlines Arena, may well prove to be one of the high points for a Heat team suddenly back in the mix. With new coach Stan Van Gundy at the helm, Miami has played itself into the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference, and the teams victory over the Mavericks proves at the very least that the Heat can hang with one of the better teams in the NBA.
The game was also the seventh straight win for Miami before the teams 87-80 loss to the Indian Pacers Sunday. The Pacers, ironically, also feature two Queens natives, Ron Artest of Queensbridge and Lefrak Citys own Kenny Anderson.
Alstons contributions to the Heat this year cannot be overstated. Picked up as a free agent in the off-season after toiling away for Milwaukee and Toronto in limited action over his first four years in the league the playground legend dubbed Skip to m Lou fell into steady playing time when highly touted rookie Dwayne Wade was sidelined by injuries.
Alston quickly established himself as the best pure point guard on the team, capable of getting the ball to the guys meant to do the scoring. He also proved he can hit the outside shot as well, something he showed me a long, long time ago.
I just hope Alston can keep up his solid play and help Miami make a nice run in the postseason. Believe me, as a Knicks fan, I never thought Id be rooting for Miami, but with Alston on board its hard for me not to.
In a related story, former Christ the King and St. Johns University point guard Omar Cook was a weekend away from making his New York City professional basketball debut Monday night as a member of the Portland Trailblazers, who were in town to take on Stephon Marbury and the Knicks. That is until Portland put the Brooklyn native on the injured list Saturday.
Like Alston, whose road to the NBA was as long as it was unusual, Cook has not had the easiest of times since leaving the Red Storm after his freshman year. A potential first-round pick, Cook fell to the second round, where he was picked by the Orlando Magic. He was later traded to Denver but played for neither, being cut by the Nuggets before the 2001-2002 season.
After toiling away in the NBDL, Cook has had flirtations with a couple of teams, Dallas and Boston coming to mind, but it was with Portland that he finally caught on this season.
In all, Cook has played in 17 games this season in very limited action. He has scored no more than two points seven times, but he did manage to dish out five assists against the Los Angeles Clippers Feb. 18.
These are the growing pains of NBA players who arent college studs or high school phenoms. They have to take the long road, pay their dues and one day maybe find themselves draining the game-winning three-pointer on national television.
Cook may not be there yet, but it wasnt long ago that Alston was on the outside looking in.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
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