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The Daily Wildcat


Basketball community mourns loss of UA alum Sean Rooks

Courtesy Arizona Athletics
Sean Rooks poses for a photo in his basketball getup for Arizona Athletics. Rooks, who played at Arizona from 1987 to 1992, passed away on Tuesday, June 7.

Dealing with a death is a tragic and emotional state, especially when an inspirational figure dies at a younger age than expected. Former NBA player, assistant coach and UA alum Sean Rooks died Tuesday evening in a Philadelphia restaurant just hours after meeting with the New York Knicks for an assistant coaching job. 

The cause of Rooks’ death is officially undetermined, but USA Today reported that he likely died from heart disease. 

Rooks, 46, played four years of college basketball at the UA, before spending 12 years in the NBA.  He was also a teacher of the game, coaching for nearly a decade after his playing career ended. 

Rooks’ death shouldn’t be remembered by how sudden the end came, but the impact he left on the basketball world. 

Rooks was originally from New York, but attended high school in Fontana, California and took his talents to Arizona in 1988 to play under Hall of Fame head coach Lute Olson. 

Playing four years under Olson in Tucson, Rooks bloomed into a true post presence, averaging 16.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game his senior year, good enough to earn All-Pac-10 Honors. 

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Rooks stood at 6-foot-10 with a 250 pound frame, which is why he earned the nickname “Wookie”. He was the kind of player where he would put someone on a poster and do it with a smile on his face, because he just loved to play the game of basketball.

It was his combination of positivity and production on the court that molded Rooks into a player that everyone wanted to be around.

“Sean was such a wonderful young man with a great disposition,” Olson said. “During his time at Arizona, he was always one of the most pleasant individuals to be around.” 

Rooks continued his dominance at the professional level after he was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks at No. 30 overall in the 1992 NBA Draft. He’d spend two seasons with the Mavericks, and then landed a spot on the up-and-coming Los Angeles Lakers in 1996, serving as a reserve for star center Shaquille O’Neal. 

But while Rooks and the Lakers were pursuing an NBA championship, Rooks was also focused on making an impact in the community—especially with those linked to the UA. Rooks made his impact through the game he loved most — basketball.

Former Wildcat Corey Williams, who spoke to KAMP Student Radio Wednesday to talk about Rooks, witnessed Rooks’ love for the game firsthand.

Williams recalled a time when Rooks, despite being an NBA player, would show up to pick-up games in midtown Los Angeles. 

Williams, who often frequented pick-up games, usually dominated the action, given that he was a former college basketball player himself, but that changed when Rooks showed up.

“I asked him what he was doing here and he said, ‘Oh I come down here and play all the time’,” Williams said. “This was the middle of the season and he was with the Lakers and he was coming to play pickup ball whenever he wanted to.”

But to those that know Rooks, it wasn’t a surprise. Williams said Rooks always kept a pair of basketball shoes in the trunk of his car and whenever there was basketball being played–no matter who was playing or where the game was taking place–he laced up his sneakers to play.

“If there was a basketball bouncing, he was playing,” Williams said. “That’s just the kind of guy he was.”

And even when Rooks’ playing career ended in 2004, he took to coaching so he could stay around the game and transfer his passion for the game to younger players. He served as an assistant coach in the NBA Development League for nine years before becoming an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2014. 

RELATED: Five-star basketball recruit Terrance Ferguson may play overseas instead of enrolling at the UA

Of course Rooks, being the basketball junkie he was, thrived as a coach.

“His ability to work with big players and his passion for coaching were undeniable,” Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek said in a statement. 

“Sean was with me for two years and helped our young players and coaching staff by sharing his experiences in such an endearing way,” said Sixers’ head coach Brett Brown in a statement.

Rooks never made superstar money and won’t be a Hall of Famer, but the contributions he made to the game and the passion he had for it are why he won’t be missed in just the Old Pueblo, where he starred as a college player, but in the basketball community as a whole. 

“He meant so much to so many people,” Brown said. “We are all deeply saddened by his loss…He will be missed.”

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