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Tuesday September 9, 2008 5:15 PM

Catching Up With Rafer Alston


Veteran point guard talks rehab, responsibility and Ron Artest

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer

HOUSTON - The draft is done. The free agent frenzy and Olympics are, too. Preseason is still more than a month away. Yep, we've officially entered hoops hibernation.

So to get you through the basketball void, Rockets.com will spend the next few weeks catching up with various members of the team to find out what they've been up to this summer. The tour continues today as we chat with Rafer Alston.

JCF: How’s your summer been?

RA: It’s been good. I’ve had a chance to relax coming off surgery for my ankle; it’s been good to let my body rest and heal.  I stayed around basketball, running around and traveling with my AAU team that I sponsor and coach at the same time.  I’ve had a blast with that.

JCF: How’s the ankle doing?

RA: It’s doing well.  I was able to go in there [to the practice court] today – it was the first day – and do some things that I thought I’d have trouble doing, but I was able to cut, run and jump and do some things that I’m normally capable of, so it was a productive day.

JCF: Now you haven’t actually been cleared to participate in games yet, right?

RA: Right.  But today I was able to do more than what everyone thought I’d be able to do, and even more than what I thought I’d be able to do, so you never know, I could probably get cleared sooner than we think.  It just depends how it responds after each workout.

JCF: But I guess you have to be patient, too, right?  Just to avoid any sort of setback?

RA:  Indeed.  But the good thing is that I allowed it a chance to heal.  They told me to rest and not do anything until September, so I waited and did some light jogging. Then I was able to come in today – at the appropriate time that they said to come on in – and got on the court and tried some things, so everything worked out well.

JCF: Now how about off the court?  Are you a movie or video game guy?

RA: Oh man, off the court I’m a big bowling guy and I like going to movies – I’m a big moviegoer.  I’m always going to the theater and watching movies at my house.  I play video games here and there, it just depends who comes over and who likes to play. 

JCF: So what do you play?

RA: Madden and some NBA Live.

JCF: What are some of the best movies you’ve seen this summer?

RA: I saw Street Kings. Vantage Point was good. Dark Knight was great. Step Brothers was funny…

JCF: Chuck really liked Tropic Thunder.

RA: I saw that, it was cool.  But, you know, it seemed like you already knew what was going to happen. 

JCF: Did it change your opinion of Tom Cruise at all?

RA: (laughs) No, he was cool. 

JCF: But still crazy…

RA: (laughs) Yeah. Anyway, I think I’m going to try and see the new Nicolas Cage movie Bangkok today or tomorrow…

JCF: Oh geez, speaking of crazy...  Anyway, I know this is the world’s worst segue, but do you feel like there anything left to say about your DWI arrest last month?

RA: Anything that I’ve done, I’ve always been a man and stood up and apologized.  So I’ve apologized to the team, our GM and Mr. Alexander.  I told my teammates I’m sorry and that I won’t let anything hinder what we’re trying to accomplish as a team and what I’m trying to accomplish as an individual.

JCF: Speaking of team goals, this club already has huge expectations being placed upon it and you’re a big part of that.  It’s interesting, because I’ll never forget media day last year when there was so much speculation about your future with the team and you stood up to the rumors and sent notice that as long as you were here you were going to prove that you were the best guy to go out and run this team and you did it.  Do you feel as if you’re the kind of guy who plays better when he has a chip on his shoulder?

RA: (laughs) Yeah, I would say so.  Whenever your back is against the wall, you feel like you have something to prove.  But the good thing with me is that I don’t let that overshadow what we’re trying to accomplish as a team. I’ve always been able to put things in perspective in that I know I have to show that I belong in this league, I belong on this team and I’m the guy to run the show, but at the same time I understand that we have to win games and fight tooth and nail to make the playoffs and hopefully win a series.  But I’ve always had to show and prove that I can get the job done.

JCF: Yeah, that’s kind of been the story of your career.  Do you feel like you have that respect now?

RA: I think so – and now just here, but around the league. I think people understand that, “Hey, this guy can play. You have to keep an eye on him.” I think it took quite awhile, but I think I’ve accomplished that.

JCF: Well now you’ve got all these new toys to play with.  I have to believe that this year’s team is a point guard’s dream come true.  Adding guys like Artest and Barry to a core featuring Tracy, Yao, Luis and Shane… I mean, what more can you ask for?

RA: I’m excited. I think my job is simple: it’s to get these guys the ball often. Understand who has it going to times out there.  It’s a lot of weapons.  As a point guard, it’s exciting to have weapons on both sides of the floor.  We’ve got two All-Stars and now we add a guy like Ron Artest who can be an All-Star any year in this league.  So I think that not only as a point guard do you love that, but collectively as a team we should all feel excited about playing with one another.

JCF: Does it change your role at all?

RA: I think it does. I think last year I had to take on more of a scoring role, especially when Yao went down.  Even when Yao was in the lineup, we needed guys to lend a helping hand with the scoring.  But we do things by committee here; sometimes it’s Scola, some nights Battier is pulling us.  Sometimes we get production from Landry, Brooks and Luther Head.  I always feel like, if the team needs me, I can hit some threes or get to the basket.

JCF: Do you look forward to being able to really concentrate and focus on the distributor role?

RA: Oh, I love to. I cherish that opportunity to really be a floor general. I’ve only played one position in my life and that’s point guard, so it’s not like they can slide me to the two or three; I’m not big enough for those positions. But being a point guard comes natural to me so it should work well.  The good thing is I learned from an early age how to pass the ball and how to make a post entry pass, so these guys know that I can get them the basketball.  They also know that if they’re double-teamed and in trouble, I can give them a helping hand by knocking down some open threes to help punish the defense.

It should be an exciting year.  Just adding Artest and Barry, and getting a healthy Yao and Tracy, it should be exciting.  I’ve always dreamed about leading the league in assists (laughs) and I should have a real opportunity to do so.  Obviously it depends on minutes and how the games are going, but I look forward to it.

JCF: I was going to ask you: Have you set certain statistical goals for the upcoming season?

RA: No, I never do that. The things I always dream about are team-oriented. You know, leading the league in assists is obviously more of a team type of thing more than it is a personal accomplishment.  So I look always forward to team goals.  Like maybe now I can be more aggressive defending the ball knowing I’ve got so much help with Yao back there and Shane and Ron who love to defend, too.  So maybe I can be aggressive and get my hands on balls and get more steals, and try to get us more possessions out there.

JCF: How do you personally handle the increased expectations for the team this season? Do you try to get people to slow down a bit since the season hasn’t even started yet, or do you say, “Hey, bring it on!”?

RA: You can’t look too far ahead.  I mean, we know the expectations are going to be there, especially after adding a guy like Ron and a proven veteran like Brent.  But I think every team’s goal coming into the year is to win a championship, until it starts to play out.  That’s teams change their goals to just making the playoffs, or teams realize they won’t make the playoffs so the goal becomes just finish the year strong without any big injuries. So I think our goal is the same as any team and that’s to win the championship, but I think first we have to put the work in on the practice floor during training camp.

JCF: What was your reaction when you found out that Ron was headed to Houston?

RA: I was excited! This will be the second time in my career I get to play with a fellow Queens, New York guy. We knew and heard so much about each other growing up, so it’s going to be exciting. I had a chance to play with (Queen’s native) Lamar Odom in Miami and we had a wonderful year – ended up going to the Eastern Conference Semi-finals, so I look forward to advancing with Ron this year.

Have a comment, critique or suggestion for Rockets.com? Contact Jason Friedman via email at: jasonf@rocketball.com