Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
The last time Mike Rosario went to Puerto Rico to train with a National Team, Todd Washington recalls that Rosario didn’t take things as seriously as he could or should have.
“Three years ago when he came down here, he was all caught up in the nightlife and the girls,” Washington, founder of the Puerto Rico Playmakers AAU team and a longtime Rosario mentor, told SNY.tv by phone from San Juan, P.R.
Yet Rosario went on to lead the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship in New Zealand in scoring at 24 point per game, highlighted by a 54-point outburst in Puerto Rico’s win over France. Puerto Rico ended up finishing sixth overall.
Now, three years later, after transferring to Florida from Rutgers and coming off a disappointing season with the Gators, Washington believes Rosario is truly on the brink of something special as he trains with the Puerto Rico Senior National Team for a potential spot in the London Olympics.
“I think the buzzer has finally gone off,” Washington said. “I think he gets that this is it for him. He’s gotta make good on all the talent and all the expectations that he has.
“He’s a completely different dude than he was when he came down here three years ago.”
Rosario, 21, is aware that his college career is almost over and he still has a ways go to to live up to the lofty potential tag he earned while helping St. Anthony win a mythical national championship in 2008.
“I’m still waiting for that one day where everything just [takes off] because right now a lot of people still think that just because I didn’t play as much, or I didn’t score as many points, that I lost that fire, you know?” Rosario, a Jersey City, N.J., native whose mother is Puerto Rican, said by phone.
“And that’s not the case because if this year I get to play as many minutes as I expect and do the things that coach needs me to do, I’m going to be the player that I need to be for my team. I still have that killer instinct and that killer fire.”
LIVING UP TO THE HYPE
When Rosario committed to then-Rutgers head coach Fred Hill out of Bob Hurley’s fabled St. Anthony program, it was a watershed moment for the state university of New Jersey.
He was the program’s first-ever McDonald’s All-American.
Rosario’s teammates on the East squad in the 2008 McDonald’s game included Tyreke Evans, Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Kemba Walker and Samardo Samuels — all of whom are currently in the NBA.
The West squad included current pros Jrue Holiday, Iman Shumpert, Brandon Jennings and Greg Monroe.
But somewhere after scoring 18 points to help the East beat the West, 107-102, in that McDonald’s game, Rosario’s career went off the rails.
After two years of being catered to and pampered at Rutgers, he opted to transfer to Florida to play for Billy Donovan. Hill was soon fired from Rutgers and replaced by Mike Rice.
But after sitting out a season per NCAA transfer regulations, Rosario averaged just 6.6 points and 1.4 rebounds last year while playing behind Florida’s vaunted backcourt trio of Bradley Beal, Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton.
It could not have been an easy situation for Rosario, who on at least one occasion during his senior year of high school had to be talked to by St. Anthony teammates Travon Woodall, Jio Fontan and Tyshawn Taylor about his prima donna attitude during their undefeated season.
“It was tough,” Rosario said of last season at Florida. “It was tough because coming from the situation that I was at before, being the man and scoring all the points and playing 30 minutes a game, it was a road that I had to accept and it was for my team. And I accepted that role because at the end of the day it’s all about character and how you adjust to things.”
He added: “I wasn’t in the spotlight no more. A lot of guys don’t know how to adjust to situations like that and I felt like I carried myself the right way and I matured a lot since I got to Florida.”
Still, Washington has heard the stories about Rosario slacking off at Florida and not meeting expectations.
“He recognizes now that he screwed up,” Washington said. “I just don’t think he took his responsibility as seriously as he should, coming late to meetings, not doing the necessary work in the gym, getting his body right.”
Added Washington: “In Puerto Rico, he’s doing all that and then some. Waking up early, working out around the clock. Completely not into the nightlife and all the fun that is Puerto Rico.
“Last year he wasn’t doing all the little things that guys who want to go to the next level do. And he’s doing all those things in Puerto Rico.”
CHANGING ROLE AT FLORIDA
After falling to Louisville in the Elite Eight in Phoenix, Florida lost both Walker (graduation) and Beal (NBA Draft).
That should open things up for Rosario to have a more significant role in the backcourt along with Boynton and junior Scottie Wilbekin.
“I feel like my role is going to be bigger this year than last year,” Rosario said. “This is my last go-round and I feel like coach is going to have us lead the team, me, Kenny and Patric Young. And it’s going to be a great experience just to participate and play.”
A SHOT AT THE OLYMPICS
Puerto Rico must still compete in the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament July 2-8 in Caracas, Venezuela.
They are in a pool with the Dominican Republic, which is coached by Kentucky’s John Calipari, as well as Venezuela and New Zealand. Twelve total teams are in the event.
The top three teams will qualify for the London Olympics in August.
Along with Rosario, ShabazzNapier of UConn, Jorge Brian Diaz of Nebraska, Kevin Young of Kansas and Chris Gaston of Fordham are trying out for a team that could include pros Renaldo Balkman, J.J. Barea and Carlos Arroyo, among others.
Rosario doesn’t know if he will end up making the final roster, but for now just trying his hardest and doing the right thing is part of his continued evolution.
“It doesn’t matter if I make the team or not,” he said. “It matters that I’m working still and I’m not home sitting around.
“Hopefully, I make the team because I’m working hard and I’m hungry right now. I’m hungry right now and I want to make this team so bad.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.