For four years, Zack Rosen was all about team.
After any game in which the three-year captain put the team on his back in order to stay in it, his response would be something along the lines of, “I did what I had to do for my team,” or, “My team needed me to step up and play like that.”
In losses, Rosen blamed himself for not doing enough to help his Quakers. In Penn’s home opener this season, an overtime loss to Temple in which Rosen scored 27 points, he couldn’t look past one moment.
“I was thinking about the 1-and-1 that I missed in the last five minutes of the game,” he said.
But with Penn’s season officially in the books and Rosen’s No. 1 hung up for good — until someone dares to claim the number, at least — it’s time for the program’s No. 3 all-time leading scorer can finally think less about his team and more about his professional career prospects.
Rosen has an impressive resume, and the numbers do not even begin to tell the story of his success at Penn and his impact on the program.
The three-time first-team All-Ivy point guard and 2011-12 Ivy Player of the Year finishes his career with 1,723 points, in front of Quakers legends Michael Jordan, Ibby Jaaber, Jerome Allen, Mark Zoller, Matt Maloney and Corky Calhoun. Rosen is first for Penn all time in assists, games started and minutes played.
His ability to make plays out of nothing and drain treys from unthinkable distances is unparalleled. Many have said the Colonia, N.J., native has done more with less than any other collegiate team in the nation.
Rosen is a unique player. Listed at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, it’s easy to knock his athleticism. But somehow, that doesn’t matter.
For Rosen, it’s all about his mentality.
The Wharton senior, who interned for Goldman Sachs last summer while working out with NBA players at the New York Sports Club, is currently enrolled in professor Justin McDaniel’s Introduction to Buddhism course.
Sitting in McDaniel’s class one Monday morning, glasses on and pen in left hand, Rosen takes notes — laughing all the while at his professor’s humor in explaining the meaning of time and space.
“How long has the world existed?” asks McDaniel, a tall Irish father of two who spent two years in Tibet as a Buddhist monk. He tells a story of a bird eroding a mountain only by swiping the top with its wing as it passes every hundred years. When the mountain has worn down to the ground, one kalpa has passed. The world has been existence for countless kalpas.
“Time doesn’t matter; your future doesn’t exist,” McDaniel says. “You are simply decaying.”
Rosen nods, he contemplates the notion.
“You are no different than the person sitting next to you — no better or no worse,” McDaniels says later in the lecture. “You are all made up of the same thing.”
Rosen acknowledges that he is spiritual, and he buys into what McDaniels presents.
A leader in Penn’s Jewish community — it was not unusual to see a “Rosen’s Chosen” sign waving from the student secion at any given game at the Palestra — Rosen’s spirituality influences the way he approaches the game.
During Rosen’s sophomore year, he began working for Management professor Keith Weigelt, whose interest lies in the economics of sports.
It was Weigelt who introduced Rosen — among other Penn athletes — to “strategic decision making” and taught him to connect basketball to life. As Weigelt’s work-study student, Rosen looked to his professor for guidance.
Combined with studying far- eastern philosophy and Daoism, which encompasses the Buddhism he is learning this semester from McDaniel, Rosen said the mindset he adopted sophomore year “changed the way I look at basketball, and life itself.”
“Discouragement doesn’t exist,” Rosen says. On or off the court, “I can’t get discouraged.”
He sees the bigger picture. He recognizes that frustrations and discouragements are “in the moment,” so he puts those small, temporary setbacks into perspective.
“You don’t allow yourself to get frustrated,” Rosen says. “The only thing you can do today is try to be a little better than yesterday.”
Without Zack’s view on life and his love for the game, who knows if Penn’s basketball program would be where it is today? Coach Jerome Allen certainly doesn’t.
“He did everything for us,” Allen said of Rosen’s career with the Quakers after his final game Monday night. “I’m not sure where this program would be or where this team would be if not for him.”
His teammates have all commended his abilities as well.
Back in December, Rosen’s four-year roommate Rob Belcore praised him for his everyday actions.
“He’s like no one I ever met, honestly,” Belcore said. “Every day, in everything he does … he pursues excellence. It’s something that … I really admire.”
Midway through the year, freshman forward Greg Louis, who had hip surgery before the season, spoke about what he had learned from Rosen.
“I get a chance to take every bit of knowledge from Zack as I can — it’s stupid not to,” he said of the point guard he would never get to play with.
And Monday night after Rosen’s final collegiate game, sophomore Miles Cartwright, who is slated to take over Rosen’s position as an upperclassman leader, reflected on his time with Rosen.
“It was a blessing for me … to learn from the best in our league, the best in this city,” Cartwright said. “This year he really showed me what it took to be a leader on and off the court. When we’re not playing, when we’re not practicing, he brings us all together.”
Ironically, Zack Rosen experienced arguably the most frustrating career of anyone in Penn’s storied hoops history. And though ending four years of incredible play without an Ivy title was a tough pill to swallow, he plays the game — and will continue to do so — because he loves it.
“It’s an arena where I can challenge myself everyday,” Rosen says. “A little arena for life challenges, adversity, passion.”
It’s something one must have “a stomach for,” because, for so many, including Rosen himself, “It’s not always going to work out how it should.”
“People,” as Rosen explained, “work day and night without benefit.” He is no exception.
There is no question of Rosen’s leadership, impact or influence. His talent level is NBA-worthy, and his work ethic is unrivaled.
Before each game, Rosen takes over 200 shots. For home games, he arrives at the Palestra before anyone else, while custodial and operations staff are still preparing the building for thousands of fans.
He makes 75 percent of his shots from all ranges, including half-court.
An hour before gametime, Rosen sits on Penn’s bench sipping water, his warmup completed. He says this is the worst part — the waiting.
In the coming months, Rosen will continue to work out, and tens of thousands of shots will be taken and made. But at the same time, he’ll be waiting.
It’s a mental exercise, waiting for the perfect opportunity to continue his playing career. But challenges of the mind are nothing he can’t overcome.
Rosen has opportunities to play abroad — in Israel, specifically — but he has a chance to make it in the NBA.
His time wearing the Red and Blue is officially over, and it was nothing but a wild ride.
After four years of doing anything and everything for his team, Rosen is beginning a new journey.
As he left the Palestra with his family Monday night after playing in a Penn uniform for the final time, he took in the empty Cathedral’s atmosphere.
“Peace out,” he yelled from the northwest corner, just outside the locker room that served as his second home for four years. “It’s been real.”