Rafer Alston, we hardly knew you.
According to a source speaking with NiuBBall, Zhejiang Guangsha and Rafer Alston have split ways after Alston unexpectedly returned to the United States last Thursday to attend the funeral of a close friend who died last week.
According to Asia-Basket.com, Alston told Guangsha that he intended to come back to China after the funeral, but suspecting that the player was highly unlikely to return for the remainder of the season, the team reportedly told him not to report back. Guangsha will sign Walker Russell Jr., who had played since the beginning of the NBA D-League regular season for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. The 6-foot guard out of Jacksonville State University averaged 17.6 points, 7.9 assists and 1.8 steals in 36 games, all starts.
Like every other high-profile NBA player who left China early this season, Alston hasn’t left on good terms. Guangsha’s distrust over Alston’s promise to come back at the conclusion of the funeral stems from an incident after the team’s latest game against Zhejiang Chouzhou last Thursday. Midway through the game, Alston suffered an apparent injury that kept him out for most of the second half. Concerned about the health of their key import, the team offered to take Alston to the hospital for treatment and tests. Alston, however, refused to go, and the next day he was on a plane back to the States.
“You’re hurt, and then you don’t go to a doctor?” asked team general manger, Ye Xiangyu. “It’s illogical. There’s only one possibility, he simply wasn’t injured.”
Though one can never truly be shocked at foreign player turnover in this league, the sudden Alston-Guangsha split is somewhat surprising given Alston’s behavior leading up to his departure. The team was optimistic at first over Alston’s willingness to interact with his Chinese teammates upon his arrival, and downright giddy when Alston opted to stay in Hangzhou during the Chinese New Year break in early February to workout individually in the team’s practice facility after he got off to a slow start in his first two games. But, with Guangsha battling for a playoff spot not knowing whether Alston is coming back, team decision makers have gone with Russell to guarantee their final push will be made with two imports in their lineup.
At 14-12, Guangha is in seventh place fighting for a playoff spot with only five games left to go on the schedule. They play at home tonight against Liaoning. In his eight games, Guangsha went 3-5 with Alston averaging 19.2 points and 3.8 assists per game.