CHATHAM, NJ - Not one known to back down in difficult circumstances, Chatham senior guard Jack Rooney has been going face-to-face with the challenges he meets every time he steps on the basketball court.
Practically every team Chatham plays comes in with a plan to limit Rooney's 3-point shooting, assigning a player to face-guard him wherever he goes, whether he has the ball or not.
"It's been frustrating," Rooney said. "This year I've been face-guarded almost every game. I've gotten used to it, so I just let things in the game flow and let it come to me. There isn't a lot of space, so when they're up on me, I have to make a move to get free. I've gotten better with the mid-range pull-up shot. It was definitely a lot easier in my sophomore and junior years."
Rooney had to work for every point he got on Tuesday against Millburn, including the pull-up jumper midway through the fourth period (see video below) that made him Chatham's all-time leading boys basketball scorer.
Jack Rooney is the Hawk All-state Chatham Athlete of the Week.
Breaking Billy Oliver's Chatham record of 1,310 points, which stood since 2008, was a mental grind for Rooney the closer got to it.
"I knew I was nine away from breaking it (vs. Millburn)," Rooney said. "I was really concentrating on the game, but once I hit my first shot, it kind of got in my head. It's almost impossible not to think about it."
Perhaps, there was a young fan in the stands who will remember the play of Rooney on the way to chasing the same school record. Rooney certainly remembers Oliver and the state-tournament run that ended in the Tournament of Champions for the 2007 Cougars.
"I saw him play when I was seven or eight years old," Rooney said. " He would catch alley-oops for dunks and then step out and hit a three. He was very straight-faced the whole time. He didn't get too high or too low, that was one of the things that impressed me about him. When they lost, I cried. I remember that."
The 5-9 shooting guard is one of those rare players who began his high school career as a varsity freshman. Who knows what would have happened if he hadn't made his desires known to coach Todd Ervin.
"I remember it was the fall of freshman year and I saw Erv and he asked me if I wanted to play JV or varsity and I said that it didn't really matter to me," he said. "Then I walked out of the building and stopped myself and turned back and told him I wanted to play varsity. He said okay. Looking back, knowing him as well as I do now, he probably would have said the same thing, no matter what I said."
It was a good move from the start. Rooney has contributed to a lot of winning during his four years, playing key roles on two Morris County Tournament championship teams and three straight state sectional final teams. Through 23 games this season, Chatham stands 88-22 during Rooney's varsity career, a winning percentage of .800.
Rooney also holds the record for 3-pointers made in a single game at eight, which he has done twice. But the strategy to guard against the long jumper has led him to contribute in other ways. For instance, he's averaging 6.7 rebounds per game.
"It's almost double what I used to average," said Rooney, who will continue playing at Gettysburg College next year.
Ervin often mentions Rooney's work ethic and that has been apparent from the first day of practice when he led the team in the 17s, the sideline to sideline sprints.
"I kind of take pride in that," Rooney said. "Mac (Bredahl) is more of a talkative person and I'm more of a guy who leads by example, so it works out good."
Rooney has averaged 13.3 points 2.5 assists and 1.7 steals while playing alongside point guard Bredahl, giving Chatham one of the most formidable backcourts in Morris County.
"It's been a blessing playing with Jack since sixth grade," Bredahl said. "He's been drawing that top defender, which opens it up for everyone else. He scores at will and he'll find you if you're open. I wouldn't want to spend these years with anyone else. We try to feed off each other's energy. It helps that he's a friend off the court."
This shot with 4:27 left in the fourth quarter made Rooney the all-time leading boys basketball scorer
Editor's note: The Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week is sponsored by the John Hawk Agency. John and his team have been protecting local families and business owners for over 12 years. Call them at 973-635-9494 for a new auto, home, life and business insurance quote this week and if you mention the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week they will make a $20 contribution to the Chatham Booster Club! To learn more, visit the agency website.