The Penn men’s basketball team is off to its best start since the Fran Dunphy era, and a large portion of its success thus far can be attributed to Zack Rosen.
The senior guard is on a mission in his final chance at an Ivy League title. He has scored over a third of his team’s points thus far while shooting at a deadly rate of nearly 60 percent from the field.
So as the Quakers (3-1) welcome Wagner (3-1) to the Palestra Tuesday night, the Red and Blue faithful may want to give a gracious welcome to Seahawks coach Dan Hurley, Rosen’s high-school coach and mentor, to whom the point guard attributes much of his success.
“He’s had a major impact on me as a person and a player,” Rosen said. “We have a very special relationship.”
The admiration is mutual.
“There’s no one better than the redhead you got at that school,” Hurley spat out with a laugh at the mention of Rosen’s name.
“He’s on my Mount Rushmore of favorite kids,” he added. “Both from a talent standpoint and just in terms of the character of the individual, he’s everything you’d want to coach.”
Hurley played a large role in getting Rosen to transfer to St. Benedict’s after the then-junior broke his elbow in his third and final year at Colonia High School.
“It changed my life,” Rosen said of the school at which he spent his final two years before arriving at Penn.
The two still talk regularly — two or three times a week, Rosen said — and not just about basketball.
“I knew if I ever had a life problem that I could take it to him,” Rosen said.
He even went to watch Hurley’s Wagner team play defending Ivy champion Princeton last week, a game the Seahawks won by 16 points.
On the court, what Hurley admires most about Rosen is his ability to lead, exemplified by his status as a third-year captain.
“It’s rare that you come across a leader that can do it verbally and can also show you,” Hurley explained. “Usually kids can do it one way or the other.”
Of his plans to stymie the red-hot point guard, Hurley acknowledged the difficulty.
“Zack’s playing as well as any point guard in the country right now,” he said. “He’s not an easy guy to disrupt because he’s such a well-rounded player.”
He sent a message to Rosen though, warning him jokingly of their plan: “We’re going to come and sit in a 2-3 zone and hope he misses.”
Though Rosen said he has to try to take the same approach as in any other game, he acknowledged that it’s not entirely possible to do so.
“It does mean a little more for me in terms of what I’ll be talking about to coach Hurley in 20 years,” he said, adding that if Penn loses, “I’ll probably never live it down.”
But Hurley openly acknowledged that the game will be an emotional one for him.
“As a coach, it means a lot to me, seeing who he is, what he’s become,” Hurley said. “You just get filled with so much pride that you played even a small part in what that guy stands for.”
For both Rosen and Hurley, the matchup between the Quakers and Seahawks promises to be more than just a typical nonconference November game.
“We both desperately want to win. We’re both great competitors,” Hurley said. “At least we know one of us is going to walk out happy that night. I think I can live with that.”