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Pacers' Rose is fab again


He was a key member of college basketball's most celebrated recruiting class, the trash-talking point guard on a Michigan team that went to the Final Four his first two years yet failed to come away with a championship ring.

He has slowly become as well known as the famous father he never knew, his own status as a full-blown star in the NBA about to be cemented with his next big scoring game in this year's playoffs.

Jalen Rose has gone from being a bust in his first season with the Indiana Pacersfour years ago to being one of the biggest reasons for the team's third straight trip to the Eastern Conference finals.

Yet the question remains: which Rose will show up for Game1 tonight against New York in Indianapolis?

Will it be the player who torched the Philadelphia 76ers for 70 points in the first two games of the semifinals and 21 in the Game 6 clincher Friday night, or the one who went a combined 14-for-48 in the three other games?"I've always had my share of ups and downs," Rose said. "It's how you respond when things get tough that show what you're made of."

Rose, now 27, has had his share of bumps.

Growing up in Detroit, Rose never met or even spoke with his father, former Providence College All-American Jimmy Walker, the No. 1 overall pick of the Detroit Pistons in the 1967 draft who was a two-time All-Star during a 10-year NBA career.

Rose has known about his bloodlines since age 8, when he found a card of Walker's in his mother's house. Having a great player for a father was never a big deal to Rose. "It's hard to miss something you never knew," he said without emotion.

The biggest connection for Rose has always been to Michigan's "Fab Five," the all-freshman starting lineup that included Chris Webber and Juwan Howard.

Leaving Michigan after his junior year, Rose was the 13th pick overall in the1994 draft and spent his first two NBA seasons with the Denver Nuggets. Rose was traded along with former Dunbar star Reggie Williams to the Pacers as part of a deal that sent Mark Jackson to the Nuggets.

Rose, who had started in Denver, saw his playing time cut nearly in half as he and Larry Brown, then Indiana's coach, couldn't agree on which position the6-foot-8 swingman would play. Rose wanted to play the point. Brown used him mostly at small forward.

Rose, who grew up with local legends Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas as his idols, balked at playing in the frontcourt. It took for Brown to leavethree years ago and Larry Bird to take over for Rose to get his chance. That, too, didn't come as quickly as Rose thought.

One of Bird's first moves was to bring in Chris Mullin, who played with Bird on the 1992 Olympic Dream Team. Mullin started the next two years and, though his playing time increased, Rose was still coming off the bench."I scouted Jalen in college," said Bird. "When I got here, he really wasn't playing much, but he had a lot to improve on. He's worked hard."

Rose is much the same player he was in college, using his height to back down and post up smaller guards and forwards. The biggest improvement has been in his outside shot, his shot selection and his sometimes spotty defense. A starter this season, Rose has become the team's second option behind Reggie Miller.

It was difficult for Brown, now the 76ers coach, not to notice how Rose's game - not to mention Rose himself - has grown."He's playing a position that fits him well," said Brown. "Maturity is also a factor. But the biggest thing is that he's gotten a chance."

It also could be Indiana's best chance to reach its first NBA Finals. With players such as Mullin and Sam Perkins coming off the bench with fast-improving Austin Croshere, with Travis Best pushing Jackson at point guard, the Pacers have a good blend of young legs and old heads.

This still is Miller's team, but it could eventually belong to the blossoming Rose. With as many as nine players eligible for free agency after the season, including Rose, the Pacers will have to decide which direction to take after the playoffs."Jalen's a priority for us," said club president Donnie Walsh. "He could be the foundation for five years from now."

Rose is not playing his hand - for now."Free agency is always a big topic for a player," said Rose, aware of the big-money contracts his former college teammates, Webber and Howard, each signed in recent years. "The opportunity to make a career decision like that is one not many people get to make. You have a sense of power in a lot of ways."

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