Penn’s Zack Rosen Working To Be The Next Jeremy Lin

By: 06.20.12
Zack Rosen

Zack Rosen (photo. Penn Athletics)

While more of his highly-regarded teammates left for big name programs, Rosen was initially reluctant to attend Penn. Four years later, he has gone down as one of the greatest players in the program’s history. He’s their all-time leader in assists (588), games started (115) and minutes played (4,198). He’s also third in points with 1,723.

This past season, he was named the Ivy League and Big 5 Player of the Year, one of the more distinguished honors an athlete can receive in the Philadelphia hoops community. Fans of the Big 5 will surely vouch for the one shame in Rosen’s career; having never played in the NCAA tournament.

“Playing in the Big 5 has been a complete honor,” he says. “It’s something that I understood a little bit of because I grew up watching it. Lynn Greer was my favorite player growing up and the greatest thing about the Big 5 is that guys come back. A lot of them rarely leave the city. It’s underrated by people who haven’t been through it. To go down as one of the better players is a complete honor.”

Bill Bradley (Princeton), Geoff Petrie (Princeton), Chris Dudley (Yale) and Matt Maloney (Penn) are among the leaders of the Ivy League-to-NBA trail. But we all know about Jeremy Lin, the Harvard product by way of Palo Alto, who overtook the league’s heavy hitters with the basketball “Mecca” as a backdrop. The comparisons are predictable with two talented guards from two distinguished schools playing in the overlooked Ivies.

With each Lin-ism, headline and bucket, Rosen swelled with pride. He isn’t shying away from the comparisons or questions. Why would he not love the Linsanity?

“Definitely excited about it,” says Rosen. “I asked the Sixers directly what that does for the Ivy League and the direct response was that it helps me. So, people will take a second and third look because they don’t want to miss an Ivy League guy. So, in that sense why shouldn’t I be happy? The whole thing makes the Ivy League better, more competitive as a basketball league so, God bless him. I think the Jeremy Lin thing is more of a message to guys who are playing that it’s possible. Guys give up because they see opportunities in an Ivy League situation. I mean you can you can make hundreds of thousands of dollars your first year out doing something else. So they see that as a guarantee and they put less into their game and more into their academic careers. I think that opens up the realm of possibilities.”

Rosen understands and embraces the fact that he isn’t a part of the new wave of explosive point guards in the mold of Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. Too short, too light, can’t hang physically, he’s heard it all. What about things he can do? He knows how to play the point position, can knock down a jumper and the heart needed nightly is there. If anything, Rosen believes playing with NBA-level athletes will only further elevate his floor skills.

“I can throw a lob pass now,” he says. “I threw a lob to Fab Melo today off a screen-and-roll and I haven’t done that in a long time. I got like a little chill. My true value to a team occurs in a five-on-five setting. I know I’m not the greatest one-on-one guy off a set ball situation against great athleticism. That’s fine. But I can play screen-and-roll and make those decisions with the best of them. The NBA game is a total pick-and-roll game. Will bigger guards try to post me? Sure, but you can combat that. They can come out with numbers for your speed, they can test all that, but nobody can put a number on will. The will of the man has got be better than the skill. That’s the route I have to go and I’m not scared to grind it out.”

Rosen is a basketball lifer. Despite possessing a degree in economics with a concentration in management from Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of business, the numbers just don’t add up in his mind. Whether playing basketball, coaching or scouting, anything hoops related far outweighs any lucrative, yet unfulfilling career he could venture into.

At this moment in life, he’d rather spend his days in the familiar sights, smells and sounds of a gym. That’s where you can catch him on any given night.

“Unless Leon Rose (his agent) tells me something otherwise then I’ll be in a gym probably getting some floaters up,” says Rosen. “Donnie Nelson (Mavericks general manager), I met with him down at Portsmouth. He said that was the game changer for (Steve) Nash and (J.J.) Barea. That wasn’t something that we ever practiced or incorporated because I was so good at getting to a spot and just shooting jumpers. But it’s something we’ve been working on a lot because it’s necessary and you see it. Especially in the NBA game, there’s very little mid-range game for small guards because those gaps just close.”

The gym and dream is never closed in Rosen’s world.

Do you see any legitimate small-time sleepers in this draft?

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