Rose stays mum on benching

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:57 AM ET

Jalen Rose will give you name, rank and serial number and little more than that as he bites his tongue and this strange form of basketball torture continues.

Ask him what it's like to languish on the bench on one of the worst teams in NBA history and his eyes will say, 'Don't ask me that,' but his words will answer little.

Ask him the same question, worded differently, attempted several times over, and like the prisoner he has become, he will not crack.

His name is Jalen Rose. His rank is former star, Toronto Raptors. His number is 5. His patience somehow has not worn thin.

The highest-paid athlete in Canada scored no points and played almost no minutes on another Wednesday night loss for the Raptors. Sam Mitchell rarely calls his name. The calls come afterward on the telephone from friends, from ex-teammates, from family, from the small world that is the NBA. All of them offering support. All of them telling the $15-million US man to hang in there.

He can scream and demand a trade, which he hasn't done -- as if anyone, let alone Rob Babcock, could trade a $15-million bench part -- or stay silent and play the part of good soldier. The word soldier, in fact, is tattooed on his left arm. Maybe soon the word hostage will replace it.

"Is Jalen Rose done?" the coach, Sam Mitchell, was asked yesterday afternoon.

"He's done," Mitchell said, then paused momentarily. "With practice today."

Everybody laughed but there is nothing funny when the most expensive player Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. employs sits by Aaron Williams at the end of the bench, watching a team of mostly unaccomplished players lose night after night after night.

"Do I think he's done?" Mitchell repeated the question. "No. But it's my job to put the five players on the court who give us the best chance to win. You manage and coach with your brain, not your heart.

"It's tough. Jalen has got a lot of pride. Other than a family member being sick or passing, professionally this has to be the toughest thing he ever has had to go through. My heart goes out to him.

"Do I have compassion for what he's going through? Absolutely."

He has compassion for Rose, just not enough conviction to let him play. The past five games Rose has scored all of 24 points. That used to be a night's work for him. Now, he's caught in a Harry Neale-ism: He can't play more if he doesn't play better and he can't play better if he doesn't play more.

Rose is adamant that turning 33 next month and in this, his 12th NBA season, he still has game. He is adamant. No one else is quite so certain. Whispers abound that a step he never had suddenly is gone.

"How much game do you have left?" he is asked.

"A ton," Rose answered, with almost false bravado. "There's no dirt on me. I see home people trying to kick some on me."

He bristled only once. When told that athletes often are the last to know that they are finished, he quickly responds with cynicism. "My experience is, the media is the first to know."

But here he sits, on a 4-18 team, a quote-aholic and former Fab Five member. And he sits some more. If Mitchell truly believed he could help them win, Rose would be playing more. If Babcock truly believed it, he would order the coach to not enable a $15-million asset to diminish so rapidly.

"Do you think you can make a difference in the games?" Rose is asked.

"No comment," he answered.

"Do you think you should be playing in the final minutes of close games?

"No comment," he answered again.

Weird sometimes how things work out. Rose used to have a reputation for being singular, being difficult, some would even call him a troublemaker. Now, when all around him are telling him that he's getting squeezed, he won't, at least publicly, be party to it.

"I've got basketball in my blood," Rose said. "I'm a basketball lifer."

And after that, all he will reveal is name, rank and serial number. The Jalen Rose hostage crisis soldiers on.


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