Rose in full bloom

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

PORTLAND -- The Raptors are sort of like a 12-year Fiat. In order to get any acceleration at all, they need to be firing on all cylinders.

They need centres Rafael Araujo and Loren Woods to step up.

They need Chris Bosh to be effective when double-teamed.

They need Morris Peterson to bring energy and defence off the bench and figure out a way to play well on the road.

They need the rookies Charlie Villanueva, Joey Graham and Jose Calderon to continue their impressive development.

And they need Jalen Rose to stay motivated and to provide leadership.

If any of those conditions are not met, well, it's going to be another long season.

Head coach Sam Mitchell has said little about his veteran swingman during the pre-season, other than he's pleased that Rose showed up to camp this season in better shape than last year, and he's happy with his play in the pre-season.

He's also pleased, and perhaps a little relieved, that Rose hasn't played the part of a frustrated veteran playing on a mediocre team who wants to be traded to a contender.

Sure, the thought is there. But Rose, thus far, has not played the T-card. Nor has he pouted, because if he does, just imagine what that would do to the likes of Villanueva, Graham and Calderon.

One angry veteran can spoil the whole apple cart.

Rose isn't in a great spot with the Raptors. At 32, he would rather finish his career playing for a contender, helping his team reach the NBA final. But he's not bitter and he insists that he will remain driven.

So what does drive the former University of Michigan star?

Well, at $15.7 million US a year, probably a chauffeur.

Actually, Rose does his own driving. He also provides his own motivation. Yes, he wants the Raptors to succeed and Villanueva, Graham and Calderon to develop into solid NBAers. But what keeps him playing hard every night are thoughts of his own legacy.

When he retires, Rose wants to be remembered for more than just being a adept scorer and quote machine.

He's is a student of the game. Don't challenge him on statistics or the history of the NBA. You'll lose. He holds the sport close to his heart.

"Basketball is in my blood," he said. "At the end of the day, when you're done playing, all you have is your body of work."

Rose mentioned the other day that, even though he is rich beyond his wildest dreams, he wants to keep playing as long as he's healthy, which could be for a long time.

"What a lot of people don't realize is, I wasn't a full-time starter until 1999-2000 season," he said. "That allowed me to show my work and be productive, but also it kind of saved my body some.

I haven't had any extreme injuries ... any problems with my feet or my legs or my ankles or knees. Because of that I think I'll be one of the players who can play until his mid-late 30's and actually still be productive."

In some ways, Rose is still a kid. He loves interaction with the fans, whether it's before, after or even during a game. And he wants, someday, to be named to the NBA all-star team. Remember how you felt as a kid when you were named to the all-star team? It's a kick. Rose wants that kick, still, and he's not too cool to admit it.

"Everybody wants to be an all-star," he said.

"That dream sometimes kind of went away from me. So now, it's really all about winning and staying healthy. And trying to improve all the time."


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