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

By: 06.20.12
Zack Rosen

Zack Rosen (photo. Penn Athletics)

The years of countless sweat and skill-building sessions in stuffy gyms punctuated with tears of those who have been along for the journey since the beginning. The tailored suite, draft cap and embrace with commissioner David Stern. A select few young men will experience this moment next Thursday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey for the NBA Draft.

For some players such as University of Pennsylvania product Zack Rosen, their entrance into the league is more Greyhound than the private jets the lottery lifestyle can provide. Brace yourselves for Rosen’s extravagant draft night plans.

“I’ll be in the gym somewhere,” he says bluntly. “Lindsey Hunter just walked by us (Phoenix Suns team scout) and said there’s no such thing as a gym rat anymore and I challenged him on it. I think if there is one it’s me. So I’ll be in my home if you wanna call it that. Be in a gym somewhere.”

Having just completed a pre-draft workout with the Suns, Rosen has been right at home whether competing at the Portsmouth Invitational, Brooklyn Nets Combine or a workout with the Philadelphia 76ers. You won’t catch the 6-0, 177-pounder popping up on mock drafts, but after a conversation with Rosen, you can feel the sincerity in his willingness and ability to prove any doubters wrong and find a spot in the league. One thing is certain, he will make sure no one will out work him.

“I read a book called ‘The Talent Code,'” Rosen explains. “It’s written by Daniel Coyle. The contention is that people play up all of this extra certain skills and talent when the reality is a lot of it and most of it boils down to hard work. There’s two factors that you can’t seem to change genetically and that’s your height and your physical makeup. But everything else you can work on to change and the premise of the whole thing is that people don’t work and people don’t change things because they believe that others are just more talented and gifted and more blessed than they are to accomplish those goals.”

Take a look at Rosen’s numbers at the Nets combine and maybe the guy isn’t giving his talent its just due. His vertical jump measured out at 33 inches and he had the fastest 3/4 court sprint.

“That’s a lot of work,” he says. “A lot…a lot…a lot of work. I did not come out that way.”

Rosen credits his muscle activating work with former Sixers strength coach Jim Ferris for his impressive measurables. His attitude toward the game was developed in North Jersey’s spirited hoops culture. A standout player on the hardwood and diamond at Colonia High (he says he was always a better baseball player), Rosen broke his throwing elbow which all but made his transition to hoops set in stone.

“You can’t play basketball in North Jersey without being a tough guy,” says Rosen. “I think that’s ingrained as a part of you and your makeup as a player. That’s number one. I had the benefit of watching a guy like Mike Nardi, who played at Villanova, just really work and get better. If you wanna make this thing happen, you gotta work at it. There’s a lot of guys chasing the same dream in that area.”

Rosen finished his high school career at the famed St. Benedict’s playing for Dan Hurley (named Rhode Island coach in March). He was a part of the No. 5-ranked team in the nation in 2007 and state prep title winning squad in 2008. St. Benedict’s helped prepare Rosen for the daily grind, having to wake up at 5:30 a.m. to make school and not getting home until late at night.

Rosen’s hoops education was amplified that much more playing for Hurley, the son of Hall of Fame high school coach Bob and brother of former Duke guard Bobby. The two don’t go a week without checking in.

“He pushes you to the limit where he’ll make you question whether you really want to play basketball or not,” Rosen says of playing for Hurley. “He’ll bring you to those points a lot. He’s the most challenging, demanding guy I’ve ever been in a gym with. That alone shapes your competiveness. It makes you really decide if this is something you really wanted to do or whether it was just something that you liked to do.”

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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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