All the Right Moves

Monday October 6, 2008 5:39 PM

All the Right Moves

Luis Scola's fancy footwork comes in handy both on - and off - the court

Jason Friedman Staff Writer

HOUSTON - No one should find it surprising that Luis Scola can dance. Just spend a few minutes watching the Argentinean big man operate in the low post and it quickly becomes apparent that Scola is light on his feet and has no shortage of signature moves.

That said, John Travolta he's not. No one's going to mistake him for Michael Flatley anytime soon (or ever, for that matter). But Scola had more than enough in his dance floor arsenal to reign supreme in Saturday's Red Rally rookie dance competition. Not too shabby for someone who initially slinked into the background in an effort to avoid his turn on the spotlight.

"It was a little embarrassing, I’m not going to lie," said Scola. "I knew I wasn’t going to get out of it. But it wasn’t that bad, it was just funny."

It's also an example of a player feeling far more comfortable with his surroundings than he did a year ago. Scola himself acknowledges this point, and his coach sees the evidence on the basketball court.

"He’s totally different," says Rick Adelman. "He's much more confident in what he can do, and our team recognizes that he’s very effective. I think just the experience factor alone gives him the confidence."

Part of the experience to which Adelman was referring originates from Scola's amazing summer spent leading the Argentinean men's basketball team to a bronze medal at the Summer Olympics. Scola was nearly unstoppable in Beijing, repeatedly leaving opponents befuddled with his dizzying array of moves around the basket.

Speaking of which, it's tempting to assume those moves were borne of a childhood spent playing soccer in

fútbol-mad Argentina. But Scola says he quit playing soccer by the time he was seven (the final straw: when a new coach moved him from goalkeeper to defense), so his fancy footwork was more the result of necessity than anything else.

"When I was in Argentina, I was always playing with older guys – sometimes ten or twenty years older. So I think that could be part of it. And I’m not so athletic, so I have to find another way to get baskets."

Today, Scola is still putting that skill and savvy to good use. And it's not just for his benefit, either. Young big men like Carl Landry realize there's much to be learned by playing with someone who possesses such a wide range of low post skills.

"I’m learning from him every day and hopefully I can take the things I’m learning from him and apply it to my game and become a great player in this league someday," says Landry. "He’s really crafty under the hoop. He’s not going to go over you and dunk on you, but he knows how to use his body, he’s got great footwork and he knows how to score around the basket. I feel like if I can apply Luis’s moves and be crafty around the basket, with my athleticism, that could be very interesting one day."

And Scola is more than willing to share whatever he can with his teammates.

"Carl is a great player; I like him so much," says Scola. "Plus, he’s a great guy; he’s really funny so I just enjoy playing with him. I’m just so happy to have Carl, Yao, Ron… and they’re all on my team. I’m just so happy to share minutes with them; they’re just great players, every one of them. They’re different kind of players and great guys. I just enjoy working out with them every day."

The cynic would probably accuse Scola of being overly-effusive with his praise. But the reality is the guy is just happy to be here - happy to be in the NBA, happy to be in Houston and happy with his spot on a championship-caliber team.

Even if he's not John Travolta.

And 1's: Just as he was last year, Scola will be part of the tag-team group expected to log minutes at center when Yao Ming rests on the bench. Coach Adelman expects to see more offense from the Argentinean big man when that occurs: "I think he’s going to do that, it’s just a matter of him getting used to what we’re trying to do. I think he can post up inside, which he hasn’t looked to do a lot because we have Yao. But when Yao’s not there, he’s got to take advantage of that. But I think you’re going to see Luis get better and better just because he’s had a year of experience.

Does Scola feel comfortable manning the center position in the NBA?

"Depends which team we play. When we play teams with Shaq or Dwight Howard, I may have a little problem there (laughs)."

One of the interesting subplots of the preseason figures to be the battle for the club’s final roster spot. Per general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets will begin the regular season with either thirteen or fourteen players (fifteen is the maximum allowed by the league) on the roster. Do the math and it quickly becomes clear that only one player from a group featuring Mike Harris, Von Wafer and DJ Strawberry has a legitimate chance to make the squad.

The Rockets begin preseason play Tuesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies (7:30 PM at the Toyota Center). Yao Ming says he expects to log about twenty minutes of playing time, while coach Adelman says Tracy McGrady will likely have the night off while he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery: "I don’t think he’ll play tomorrow and we’ll just see how it goes from there," says Adelman.

Yao was sporting some mean looking scratch marks along his left shoulder today. The culprit: rookie forward Joey Dorsey. "

He needs to cut his nails," deadpanned Yao in the early front-runner for obvious statement of the year.

One final note on the dance contest: Scola wasn't the only one who tried his best to avoid competing. Joey Dorsey was a hard sell, too. "I was so nervous in the beginning," said Dorsey afterwards. "I was like, ‘I can’t believe you’re going to make me do this, Tracy.’ I kept trying to talk him out of it and make me doing something else. I would’ve gone and gotten him breakfast in the morning, but he wouldn’t let me do it. But I think I did okay with the dance moves. I just can’t believe Scola beat me, man."

Scola's reply: "He needed to do the salsa moves if he wanted to win."

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