Rosen's years of hard work culminate with draft
Zack Rosen is a well-known workaholic. He spends hours upon hours at the gym, whether he’s shooting, dribbling, running, talking or thinking. Through four years at Penn, the diminutive point guard never credited himself for anything, unless it was to mention the work he put in to perfect his game, the work that turned a 28 percent three-point freshman shooter into one of the most lethal and clutch long-range senior shooters the Ivy League has ever seen, the work that turned a skinny, red-headed kid from New Jersey into the 2011-12 Ivy League and Big 5 Player of the Year.
But for the past two days, Rosen has done something foreign to him: He stopped going to the gym. He caught up on some reading, watched a couple of movies and spent time with friends and family while back in Jersey. He tried not to think about basketball. He even thought about shutting down his phone.
After months of combines and workouts with a few NBA teams, including the 76ers, that began almost immediately after his senior season at Penn ended in March, it’s a brief but well-deserved break for Rosen.
Now, the only thing left to is wait and see if his name will be called in tonight’s NBA draft, which would complete the unlikely journey made possible by all the early mornings and late nights in stuffy gymnasiums.
“It’s been a whirlwind of emotions,” Rosen said by phone Wednesday afternoon, shortly after returning from Sacramento, where he had a two-day workout with the Kings. “I was thinking about it today and I haven’t really had a break. If you talk to the guys who went to Portsmouth, we’ve been playing, like, a 12-month season. It’s brutal.”
“But,” he quickly adds, “what else would you rather be doing?”
Indeed, for Rosen, basketball has never been a chore. It’s been a way of life. And he’s very good at it – so good that he left Penn as the program’s all-time leader in assists (588), games started (115) and minutes played (4,198), while ranking third in career points (1,723), behind only Ernie Beck and Ugonna Onyekwe.
NBA coaches, scouts and general managers have marveled at Rosen’s exceptional college career and his innate abilities on the basketball court. They’ve even come to realize he’s more athletic than he might look after he scored highly in the vertical jump and the ¾-court sprint at a recent combine. They’ve told Rosen and his famed agent, Leon Rose, all of this.
But they’ve also told him something else, something that’s made Rosen believe his chances of getting drafted is a “long shot.”
“To be honest, it’s a lot of the same conversations,” Rosen said. “Everywhere I go, whatever team that’s been in contact with me, they love my game, they love my shot-making ability, my decision making, my leadership, my pick-and-roll ability, my toughness, my competitiveness – all of that stuff checks out. In the end, it’s not even a question of my athleticism because of my sprint times. Now it’s my size. I’m not big enough. That’s pretty much the consensus.”
It’s a natural concern, of course, that a player like Rosen who’s barely over 6 feet and well under 200 pounds might have difficulty creating his own shot at the next level or matching up against bigger guards.
But it’s still frustrating for him to hear, especially when he knows he can bring value to an NBA team by doing the same thing he did in college: making the right play and making shots.
At this point, it’s not even about proving anyone wrong. That sort of thing has never driven him. It’s more about trying to convince at least one team to look past what he calls the “generic cosmetic qualities of an NBA player” and take a chance on someone who works tirelessly and knows how to play the game.
“I’m not going to be the first guy to make it that everyone says is too short or too small or not quick enough or whatever,” Rosen said. “Guys do that on a regular basis.”
Rosen recognizes his dream won’t be crushed if he isn’t drafted, just as he knows he’ll still have work to do even if he is one of the selections in tonight’s two rounds. To show this, he brings up two players he knows well. His Ivy League rival, Harvard grad Jeremy Lin, went undrafted before skyrocketing to fame with the New York Knicks this past season. And his good friend, Marist’s Jared Jordan, was a late second-round draft pick in 2007 but couldn’t stick with an NBA team, settling for what’s turned into a successful career in Europe.
Of course, Rosen would be ecstatic if he does become the first Ivy League player to get drafted since his coach at Penn, Jerome Allen, did it in 1995. It’s an honor, he says, you’ll “have for the rest of your life.” But if he’s not picked, he’ll simply get right back into the gym and continue to work toward his goal of becoming an NBA player.
“Whether or not I hear my name called or not,” he said, “my approach won’t change.”
Unlike some players, Rosen has plenty of good options if he never makes it to the NBA. The Jewish guard is intrigued by the idea of perhaps playing professionally in Israel. He’d like to get into coaching one day. He has a Wharton degree. He’s smart, reflective and philosophical. During his two-day respite from basketball, he read a book about spirituality, watched a movie about quantum physics and wrote his final blog post
that chronicled life as a pre-draft prospect for draftexpress.com
But in that well-written blog post, entitled “The moment we’ve all been waiting for,” Rosen doesn’t flinch about his future aspirations when he writes that “somehow, someway, I’m going to play in the NBA whether I get drafted or I’m a free agent.” And he ends the post with the familiar mantra that’s echoed inside the gym walls from coast to coast throughout the past few months: Why not?
Yes, he knows it’s a long shot and a crap shoot. He knows there’s probably too much luck involved. He knows his size and college conference are working against him.
But he also doesn’t hesitate when asked if he believes he can succeed in the NBA.
“One hundred percent,” he said.
Why not, right?Dave Zeitlin covers college sports for CSNPhilly.com. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin