Max Rothschild spends countless hours each week honing his skills on the court for Penn men’s basketball, but shooting and rebounding aren’t his only talents.
“This is something no one knows about him, but he’s a rapper too,” senior guard Jake Silpe said. “He does almost everything. He plays the guitar, he raps, he records, he writes.”
Despite this revelation, Rothschild’s fans probably shouldn’t get their hopes up. He doesn’t plan on releasing anything anytime soon.
“I do a little bit of music on the side here and there,” Rothschild said. “I’m not ready to put anything out there. I don’t think I’m that good yet, but it’s something I do on the side, kind of low-key.”
Rothschild’s basketball career has been far less low-key. The senior forward and two-year captain has played in 111 games over his four years with the Red and Blue, missing just eight contests during his time with the Quakers. He was a key part of Penn’s run to an Ivy League title in 2018, starting in every game but one and finishing second on the team with 188 rebounds.
Those numbers, however, don’t come anywhere close to describing Rothschild’s true role at Penn, a school he was enamored with from the beginning.
“I just loved the campus, the fact that it was a campus within a city,” he said. “As soon as they offered, I committed because I thought it was the perfect combination of academics and athletics.”
Rothschild, or “Big Zero” as he is known for the number on the back of his jersey, quickly made an impression on his future teammates — even those he hadn’t met.
“I was looking through his Facebook and he seemed like a really funny guy, like this Cali kid. Even though he’s from Chicago, he had this California-type swag to him, like surfer almost,” Silpe said. “He was just a super funny guy, really down-to-earth, really outgoing.”
From the time he first came to Penn as a freshman in the fall of 2015, Rothschild used that personality to make a major impact both on and off the basketball court.
“I first met him personally when I came to Penn on my official visit,” junior forward AJ Brodeur said. “He was part of the welcoming committee that got me here. You could just tell that he had such a big personality, one of the friendliest guys you’ll meet. He’s all-around just a real nice guy.”
Coach Steve Donahue didn’t recruit Rothschild and actually arrived at Penn at the same time as the now-senior. Despite the lack of a relationship going in, Donahue quickly realized that Rothschild was an invaluable asset for the Quakers.
“I just thought he was a kid who has a natural ability to connect with people. He’s just so outgoing and friendly. I didn’t really know him as a player, I just loved that about him,” Donahue said. “Whatever physical limitations he has, he overcomes it because he’s just such a dynamic leader, and he helps everyone get better. He’s all about the team.”
From a pure athleticism standpoint, Rothschild probably wouldn’t be rated as one of the top big men in the Ivy League. But as the games get more and more important, that seems to matter less and less.
“I think initially we thought to win a championship we needed someone more athletic, taller, [and] longer but all of his intangibles: his ability to compete at a high level particularly on the defensive side, [he's] such a great passer, helps us run our offense,” Donahue said. “It doesn’t matter whether he plays two minutes or 40 minutes, he’s someone who really makes us better.”
This year, Rothschild’s role on the court has been restricted more than he or Donahue would like. Persistent back injuries forced him to miss three games in the middle of the season and receive limited minutes in several contests since.
“It’s really tough mentally more than anything, knowing it’s your last season and having these weird injuries,” Rothschild said. "They aren’t really totally fixable with the back and stuff, but what keeps me going every day is our family, these guys.”
As the injuries mounted and he had to spend more time off the court, Rothschild’s captaincy became even more important to him and the rest of the team. That was no problem for Rothschild, who has relished that position of leadership ever since assuming it at the start of his junior year.
“I try to have a relationship with everybody on the team, senior through freshman, every single year,” he said. “I try to get to know them better so that when you come out here on the floor you want to fight for your brother, you want to fight for your family. Those relationships take time to develop, and it takes trust and it takes servant leadership in a way and just respecting one another.”
Just how successful has Rothschild’s captaincy been?
“He’s been a great vocal leader,” Brodeur said. “He does a lot for our team chemistry on and off the court. He’s always trying to get guys to do stuff, whether that’s just hanging out, getting people in the gym to work out, [or] just trying to spend time with as many guys as he can to bring people together. He’s a big culture guy, and that’s really important for the system that coach Donahue is trying to build here.”
“Max brings unity,” said Silpe, Rothschild’s roommate and fellow captain. “He loves collectiveness. You’ll never catch him by himself. He’s always with a lot of people, and he’s always surrounding himself with really great people. He’s just a homebody. He loves his family, loves making relationships.”
But when asked for a moment that exemplified those qualities the most, these very same teammates were completely stumped.
“One specific experience … he’s just funny, man,” Silpe said. “There’s not one experience because I’ve been with him for four years. There’s so many. I could give you thousands.”
“I can’t think of one specific time, and I think that is what makes it so notable. It’s a constant thing,” Brodeur agreed. “I can’t think of one specific example because of how continuous it is.”
Rothschild himself struggled to identify his favorite memory as a Quaker, noting that even though he has spent some time reflecting, it’s difficult to single out any one experience.
“There’s a lot. There’s so many,” he said.
That’s the thing about Rothschild. Over the course of four years, his presence at Penn has been so large, so impactful that defining it with one game or one moment isn’t truly possible.
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