Smith, who is Houston's starting point guard, adds, "It doesn't matter if it's 2 a.m. or 2 p.m., you'll hear Sam coming before you see him. When he gets on the bus, I fake sleeping. Or I put on the headphones of my Walkman and start nodding my head to the music—even when I don't have a tape in. And I know he was louder at Florida State."
Smith's eyebrows twitch upward. "Can you imagine that?" he adds. "Sam's mature now."
As good as Cassell's career statistics were for the Seminoles—18.3 points, 4.4 assists and 2.3 steals a game—they hardly portended that, by the end of his rookie season of 1993-94, Cassell would have walked onto a veteran Rocket team and carved out a spot as Tomjanovich's game closer. Houston had won 55 games the season before. Ten guards were chosen before the Rockets made Cassell the 24th pick in the '93 draft. One NBA general manager told Cassell's agent that he rated Cassell no better than a CBA lifer.
But Cassell's self-confidence has always been unshakable. Even with Houston, a team on which everyone seems to shine—center Olajuwon and guard Clyde Drexler for their unyielding excellence, Horry for his playoff-game-winning jumper against San Antonio last year, forward Mario Elie for his three-pointer from the corner that killed the Phoenix Suns in Game 7 of the 1995 Western Conference semifinals—Cassell stands out.
And not just because he's a 6'3" joy buzzer.
"He's a great kid, just a great kid," Elie says. "He's got guts. Confidence. Talent. And, you know...."
"He can really talk."
It has always been like this. From the time Sam was eight years old until he was 13 or 14, Donna would look out the back window of the Cassells' three-story row house on Montford Street in Baltimore and, she recalls, "there would be Sam yelling, 'Go at it, Smoothy. C'mon, Cool! You can't guard me, Magoo!' And there would be nobody out there but him.
He'd be calling out his friends' nicknames, getting mad if one of them messed up the play—and he would go on like that for hours, I mean hours, by himself," Donna says. "It got to the point where I actually thought maybe there was something wrong with my baby—that, you know, maybe he was a little crazy or something. But my mom reassured me. She said, 'Aw, he's all right. And if he's playing by himself, he can't get into a fight.' "