Alston in spotlight

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

Vince Carter wants out.

Rafer Alston has never felt so in.

Two sides of the professional sporting world found in one city, on one team.

Depending on the moment, the game, and the mood, for all his gifts, Carter will lack energy, enthusiasm and toughness.

Energy is part of what defines Alston and, when the NBA season begins for the Raptors tomorrow night, he greets this newfound opportunity -- not to mention riches -- with almost boyish optimism.

This is a tale of two basketball players chosen in the 1998 draft under differing circumstances -- one who became a star in just about his first minute in the league and one who has yet to get there.

Carter came in with the red-carpet treatment. He was given everything and for the past few years he has produced nothing but headlines, excuses and dismay.

Alston, until now, never has had a basketball place to call home. Seven teams in seven seasons. He played for the Idaho Stampede and the Mobile Rebellers in the CBA and in the NBDL.

In between, there was time in Milwaukee and Miami and a training camp stop in Golden State and the first time through in Toronto.

A long road for a playground legend. And boy, does that legend stuff get old real fast.

"You hope every place is going to be the one," Alston said yesterday. "Each stop I thought this is the place for me. You always feel like you've found your team."

The very team that Vince Carter wants to be traded from is now Rafer Alston's team.

The first NBA chance in seven seasons for him to call himself a starting point guard.

He has what he has never had before.

Money.

Opportunity.

Security.

And a spot as the unquestionable starting point guard.

"All I ever wanted was a chance to play in the league that my idols played in," he said. "The money part, that's for my family, my son and my daughter, my mom, my sister, my brother. The money part to me is for them. I'm a survivor. I learned to live without it. I learn to live with it. Thing is, I just love the game of basketball."

It is far too easy, as another season of low expectations begins, to look at what the Raptors aren't instead of what they are.

Which is why you have to love the Alston story.

Sam Mitchell, the first-year coach, can relate. Nothing came easily for him. His route to a long playing career was almost as circuitous.

"I have a lot of respect for Rafer," Mitchell said.

"Everything he has, he deserves. We didn't give Rafer a contract, he earned it. We weren't the only team that wanted him. We feel fortunate to have been able to sign him."

The Raptors had Alston once on a series of 10-day contracts and let him go.

He was making nothing then, didn't own a car, would have stayed around on the cheap had anyone asked.

One season and one new management team later and Alston is now set for life and then some. All the legend has to do is play, which is all he has ever wanted to do.

"You hear playground player and some people sort of stereotype you as this or that," Rafer Alston said.

"People forget, 95% of players in this league learned the game in the same playgrounds I did and no one can say any different.

"This is my chance (to change that). This is where I want to be. This is where I want to play the rest of my career."


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