I had the chance to speak with 2012 graduate Zack Rosen today, a day after he announced that he signed a contract with Israeli team Hapoel Holon. He's very excited about playing pro ball, but he was sure to clarify that his going to Israel was not a sign that he has given up his dream to play in the NBA.
"By no means am I surrendering," he said.
Rosen didn't want to play a waiting game, and he knew that was happening with NBA teams. So before it was too late, he signed a one-year deal with Hapoel Holon. Since it's just a one-year contract, ending when the season does in May, Rosen could then opt to return to the United States to continue pursuing his ultimate goal. He can attend mini-camps and play in summer leagues, just as he did this summer, and again make a decision based on the interest.
Rosen has been to Israel only once, but it was the experience of a lifetime as he participated in the Maccabi Games for the U.S. It was also enough to make him want to return. Since the summer after his freshman year at Penn, he's wanted to go back and play professionally. Both sides expressed interest before Rosen finally signed his deal.
When Rosen arrives in Israel — Holon is a suburb of Tel Aviv — he will begin training camp for a month and a half. He will also begin making Aliyah, a process which grants citizenship to Jews and will allow his team to sign another American player. But making Aliyah is also a religious and spiritual commitment. Rosen said he won't make Aliyah for just basketball reasons: "It's a good thing and something I've wanted," he said.
He won't be alone in Israel, despite the seven-hour time difference. His dad has a half-sister who lives near Tel Aviv. Penn grad Sarah Friedman is also playing soccer in Tel Aviv and has already reached out to him.
And the fans? "Absolutely sick," he said. According to Rosen, the league is getting better and better, and he likes that his team is up-and coming. From what he knows about the fans and atmosphere, he compared it to Cameron Indoor."Part of [that fandom] is the soccer culture ... it infiltrates into basketball."
While Rosen had a lot of options once he chose to play overseas, it ultimately came down to a gut decision. "I liken it to college recruiting ... There are no perfect decisions," he said. But he liked the coach and his reputation and feels like he made the best decision. In the end, though, above all else, he's a rookie again.
"It's kind of like starting over, you have a clean slate, your reputation is sidelined."
Knowing Rosen, it shouldn't take too long to adjust and create a new reputation for himself.