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Bosco’s Corner: Rafer Alston’s a tough to pin down

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As I write this, I am sitting at my desk in the cozy confines of the TimesLedger offices, waiting ever so patiently for the phone to ring. It has been close to a month since I first set out on doing this story and today, I hope, I will put it all behind me.

The story, of course, is a feature article on one-time Cardozo High School basketball star Rafer Alston, now the back-up point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks. It is an article I have wanted to write for some time, the kind of story I would want to read even if I weren’t the one writing it.

But in the past month, I have found it a most difficult exercise to actually pin Rafer into a corner so I could chat with him for a few precious moments. Of course, pinning Rafer into a corner is something even the best defensive basketball players in the world might find difficult to do against the player known affectionately as “Skip 2 My Lou.”

When Alston was drafted by the Bucks more than three years ago, Queens native and former NBA star Kenny Smith said he “could dribble through a keyhole,” something he has been able to put on display more frequently on the streets of Harlem than on the NBA hardwood.

You see, Alston is one of those so-called “playground legends,” a breed of basketball player renowned for his ability to turn the simplest play into a circus routine and the knack for bringing to life the old adage, “It is better to look good than feel good.”

That’s the rap on most of these “playground legends.” While their game may make the hard-core hoops fan whoop and holler in delight with every behind-the-back, no-look pass, their type of play rarely translates to the NBA.

Even the best playground players to make it to “the show” leave the street in their games on the playground, guys like Isiah Thomas, the former Detroit Pistons star. Thomas may have been the toughest point guard in the NBA when he played and may also have been the flashiest, but while he wasn’t above a little showtime here and there, for the most part, he played a controlled game.

The most outrageous thing Thomas ever did with a ball on an NBA court would seem downright tame at the Rucker Tournament, the annual hoops tournament which brings out the best playground players in the nation.

Alston is a legend at the Rucker, a former MVP and where he got his nickname, “Skip 2 My Lou,” for his unique skip-step while bringing the ball upcourt.

But can Alston make the transition from the playground to the NBA? He is heading into his third season with the Bucks, having just inked a fully guaranteed one-year contract with the club, but this will be his sink or swim season. With Lindsay Hunter gone, the Bucks are depending on Alston to be Sam Cassell’s premier back-up.

Alston saw only limited time in his first two years with Milwaukee, but this year expects to be different. Bucks’ General Manager Ernie Grunfeld all but came out and said it to me last week that, yes, Alston is the guy after Sam. He almost said it, but, being the smart basketball man he is, would commit to nothing.

So, in essence, Alston is in control of his own destiny. If he truly earns the No. 1 back-up spot, his minutes will surely increase this season. But it is what he does with those minutes that will matter in the long run.

I have little doubt that if given the chance, Alston will blossom this year. But by signing a one-year deal, Alston and agent Keith Kreiter are taking a sizable gamble. The two turned down a multi-year deal for the opportunity for Alston to become a free agent at season’s end, when he could truly test the marketplace for his value.

But if his minutes do not increase, if he is relegated to the end bench as he was during most of his first two seasons with the Bucks, Alston could well be looking for work this time next year, with only Europe beckoning.

Of course, I do not think that will happen. I have long been one of those who has trumpeted Alston’s ability. Anyone who has seen him play for extended stretches, both in college at Fresno State and during the few times he has been given the ball by the Bucks, would be hard-pressed to disagree.

I don’t know if he will ever be a star on par with the biggest names in the NBA, but I think he can certainly play with all of them. Time will tell and, if those like me are right, Alston’s time to shine will come soon enough.

So, I sit and wait by the phone still, waiting for Alston to call, wondering if the playground legend is still dozing in his hotel room in Philadelphia, where his agent told me he’d be today.

A quick check of my answering machine at home tells me that Kreiter has called. Rafer is expecting me to call him today on his cell phone. OK, so I waited in vain. No harm done. At least I got to write this thing in the interim.

So I call.

“Yo, this Skip, man. Leave a message,” is what I hear when I dial his number, followed by the annoying pre-programmed voice which tells me, “Sorry, that mailbox is full.”

Oh well, guess I can wait a little longer. Hopefully by day’s end this story will be written. But if not, there is always next week.

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

Posted 7:20 pm, October 10, 2011
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