CHATHAM, NJ - Jack Rooney has shown that he's willing to give everything he has on the basketball court to help Chatham win. Cougar hoops followers know that from from watching him play the last three seasons.
What people don't see is the time the junior guard has put in during his free time after and between team practice sessions.
"I don't think people realize how hard he's working when we're not practicing," Chatham coach Todd Ervin said. "After practice, on weekends, on days we have off, he's constantly working. I don’t think anything he has done has been a surprise."
Rooney broke onto the Chatham varsity as a freshman because of his scoring ability. On Monday, he completed his third varsity campaign with 1,008 career points, making him the sixth Cougar to score 1,000 points and the first to do so in his junior season.
Jack Rooney is the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week.
By Rooney's standards, it wasn't his best shooting season. He suffered through a mini mid-season slump and wasn't as consistent with his 3-point shooting. But when it came to crunch time, he was there to make the big shot for Chatham.
Such was the case Monday when his 3-pointer tied the game against Barringer with 1:11 left in regulation of the state sectional championship game. The Cougars lost in overtime, with Rooney scoring the only points for Chatham in the extra session. He finished the game with 15 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
"As far as the season went, Jack definitely had his struggles," Ervin said. "He's a perfectionist and he puts a lot of pressure on himself. He's really grown in maturity as the season has gone on and showed leadership. In the past, he might have held on to a bad play. Now he lets it go and moves on. The kids elected him captain as a junior. That shows what they thought of him."
Chatham plays a basketball style under Ervin that revolves around team play and that is what makes Rooney's climb to 1,000 so remarkable. Rooney is rarely scoring points in the 20s, so his total is really a tribute to his consistency.
"I've said this before, Billy Oliver is the best player we’ve ever had and in his senior year he averaged 16 points per game," Ervin said. "If he had played anywhere else in the county, he'd average over 20 points per game. There is no doubt in my mind, it would be the same thing for Jack if he played on another team."
Oliver has 1,310 career points as the all-time Chatham leader and Rooney could very well overtake that next season when he's a senior. But there is something more precious that Oliver has that Rooney would like to experience - a state championship. Oliver powered the Cougars to the state championship in 2007.
"It was great to get 1,000 points, but not something I was pushing for," Rooney said. "I didn't want it to become a priority for me or the team. I'd much rather have won the game. You look at it and say, he’s gone to three straight sectional finals. It really is great. At the end of the day, you really want to be known as a winner. It’s tough because you think the third time there, you have it and we did have it. It is bitter."
At the end of the third quarter against Barringer, Rooney made, perhaps, the greatest shot that never counted in school history. His half-court shot swished through the net as the buzzer sounded, but a clock issue forced the referees to negate the basket.
Despite the frustration in the sectional finals, losing by two points to Colonia and then two straight overtime losses against Warren and Barringer, it would be hard to describe Rooney as anything but a winner. In three seasons, he's been a key player on Cougar squads that reached three straight state sectional championship games and three straight Morris County Tournament Championships, winning the last two MCT titles.
So far, he has never missed a game Chatham has played the last three seasons as the Cougars have compiled a 69-18 mark over that time, a winning percentage of 79 percent.
Last season, in the first round of the state tournament, Rooney established a school record by hitting eight 3-pointers in a win over Iselin Kennedy. He also was a varsity member of the Chatham lacrosse team that won the Group 2 state championship last spring.
"There are times when things aren't going right and I just want to lay down and just stop," Rooney said. "Some people might say, take a break from the game and rest. I tell myself that I'm going to stay in the gym and work my way through it. I can rest when the season is over.
"I'd like to be known as a competitor. There are going to be games when it's not going well, but I think I've shown enough at this point in my career that I can never be counted out."
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