Inside Zack Rosen’s locker, he keeps a classic Aristotle quote: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
“That came from a student on a trip to Rwanda,” Rosen said, referencing his Interfaith Service Trip over the summer. “It registered with me. I try to do that anyway.”
For many players, having that quote is mostly for show. Not for Rosen.
The Pennsylvania guard plays more than 39 minutes per game and has become one of the most productive players in the country.
“Zack lives in the gym,” said Penn assistant Michael Martin, who has been on staff for Rosen’s entire career. “In the 11 years I’ve been involved in college hoops, only Earl Hunt matches Zack’s work ethic.”
Hunt, who played for Brown in the early 2000s, finished fourth all-time in Ivy scoring with 2041 points. Not bad company.
Rosen has ranked near the top of the national rankings in minutes played for each of the past three seasons, while also steadily improving his scoring, shooting, distributing and every other facet of his game. This season, he’s averaging 20.8 points and 6.0 assists, shooting 53 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3-point range. Oh, and nearly 93 percent from the free-throw line.
Rosen has played at least 36 minutes in every game this season, including 40 or more on four separate occasions.
“I don’t like coming out, I’m not a really good bench guy,” Rosen said. “It’s probably too much. But if that’s what the team needs, I’ll do it.”
Martin said the coaching staff constantly discusses how to cut Rosen’s minutes and give him more rest, but he looks fresher and less fatigued than everyone else at the end of the game. Moreover, with the way Rosen is playing, it’s tough to sit him on the bench for even a few minutes.
What makes the story even better is that Rosen wasn’t sold on the idea of playing in the Ivy League when Penn first began recruiting him at St. Benedict’s (N.J.), where he was valedictorian in 2008. After all, he was playing on one of the best high school teams in the country, alongside Samardo Samuels, Greg Echenique, Chris Gaston, Dwan McMillan and others. With multiple teammates heading to the Big East, Rosen wanted to do the same thing. He wanted to play on TV, to be in the spotlight.
Eventually, “after a lot of smart conversations with people,” Rosen chose the Quakers and head coach Glen Miller over varying interest from high- and mid-major schools.
Penn went 16-40 in Rosen’s first two years in the program, but he was a starter from day one and never regretted his decision. Not after Miller left the program, not after Jerome Allen was taken on as head coach, not even after a third consecutive losing season in 2010-11.
“This is exactly what I expected,” Rosen deadpanned. “It’s a really good life lesson. You go in with expectations, but more often than not, it’s not going to turn out as expected. It’s been a crazy ride.”
Losses piling up never halted Rosen’s work ethic, either. He developed into a leader and someone everyone looked to on the court, upperclassmen and underclassmen alike.
“He’s battled through tons of adversity as we’ve struggled,” Martin said. “He never stopped working. There was plenty of frustration but his approach to working never changed.”
Despite the struggles, Penn is on its way back up in the Ivy League – and a lot of the credit has to go to Rosen. The Quakers did go 7-7 in the league last season, and they’re expected to compete with Princeton for second place this year. Moreover, Allen has a tremendous recruiting class coming in next season.
This season, Penn nearly knocked off Temple and UCLA, hung tight with Villanova and also beat a very good Robert Morris team.
“Coach Allen said you have to commit to a process,” Rosen said. “You may not see signs of the work for two years, but you have to keep the faith.”
Without Rosen, Penn would be in the cellar of the Ivy, just beginning the rebuilding process. Moreover, the Quakers wouldn’t be keeping up with Harvard in the arms race of Ivy recruiting. He was part of the program’s darkest days, but he’s also jumpstarted its return to prominence.
“I’m not the most talented, athletic, gifted guy, but I would consider work ethic a gift,” Rosen said. “I have a huge capacity for working.”
Which brings to mind another Aristotle quote: “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”
And Rosen certainly loves what he’s doing.
Photo: US Presswire