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    Hard Working Man

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    Courtesy Jason Friedman, Rockets.com

    HOUSTON - "I just want to be a beast. That's it. Every time I go out on the floor I want to be a beast."

    Beast mode - that is the goal Alexander Johnson has set for himself and he does a heck of a job achieving it whenever he gets a chance. Watch him play for just a minute and you can't help but notice the non-stop motor, the toughness and the desire to own the paint and snatch every rebound.

    With that sort of mentality, if he stood just 3 inches taller the Florida State product would be the proud owner of a multi-million dollar contract and job offers would be pouring in for at least a decade. As it stands, however, the 6-9 Johnson is just a journeyman busting his butt for his next gig.

    That's the thing about summer league - and Vegas for that matter: it's not simply about the glitz and glamour of lottery picks and high rollers. It's also about the people grinding away while trying to make a name for themselves. They're a dime a dozen in this town, both on the court and off, and while some strike it rich, the vast majority are left behind to lurk on the shadows.

    As someone who's 4-year pro career has taken him to Memphis and Miami before a pair of D-League stops in Arkansas and Sioux Falls, the 27-year-old Johnson knows this as well as anyone. And so he works. Tirelessly. Relentlessly. Doing everything he can to catch the coaches' eyes in an effort to ensure that, this time, he sticks.

    Johnson signed on with Houston for the last week of the regular season on April 9th. He didn't see any game action then but the Rockets' staff saw enough from him on tape and in practice to offer him a spot on their summer league roster. And despite dealing with a nagging hamstring strain, Johnson has made the most of the minutes he's received, including a 10-point, 3-rebound performance Tuesday against Toronto in just 9 minutes of action.

    "My injury has kind of slowed things down for me but I feel like the minutes I have got, I've played them well and played them like a pro," said Johnson. "I play like every one is my last minute, so I've just been trying to do everything I can.

    "Right now I'm about 60 percent because I can't jump and it affects everything I do. My game is about rebounding, running the floor, playing hard, and without my hamstring it's tough to do all those things... But I still play hard."

    Ultimately, it's Johnson's junkyard dog mentality that's going to earn him an NBA paycheck - be it in Houston or elsewhere. To be sure, he's got skills - just witness the bucket he scored against the Raptors off a strong dribble-drive from the wing - but it's his high work rate, toughness and tenacity which figure to be his most bankable qualities because, let's face it, every team needs players who display not just a fondness but a passion for doing the dirty work.

    "I love it," says Houston's summer league head coach Elston Turner. "That was me - I played that way. You just have to have someone who's willing to compete. You have to have a lot of those guys, not just one. That part, you really can't teach that or coach it, so it's a plus for (Johnson) already in that department.

    "The things that he has shown to this point are definitely things that we need. We need the big body, we need the toughness and we need somebody that's not afraid to bang... I'm confident he'll be back in training camp battling for a spot. We don't know who he's going to be battling against but to this point he's shown that he can do some big man things."

    That he has. Now it's just a matter of playing the numbers game, getting healthy and unleashing the beast every chance he gets.

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