By JOSH NEWMAN
Special to ZAGSBLOG
Over the last five years since his days at St. Anthony of Jersey City came to an end, there have been nights where Florida red-shirt senior Mike Rosario hasn’t played well, forced a coach to put him on the bench or nights where he scored a ton in a losing effort, which could pretty much sum up his two-year stint at Rutgers.
Sunday evening against Minnesota in the third round of the NCAA Tournament was different. Finally, after five years of college basketball and nearly a decade in the spotlight, Rosario, the enigmatic, combustible star of the Friars’ vaunted Class of 2008, may have figured it all out and his timing couldn’t be more perfect.
A mere 48 hours after finding himself on the bench for the majority of the Gators’ second-round win over Northwestern State, the 6-foot-3 Rosario turned in arguably his biggest game as a collegian, going for a game-high 25 points on 8-for-12 shooting and 6-for-9 from 3-point range in a 78-64 win over Minnesota.
As Rosario and the third-seeded Gators prepare for 15th-seeded and NCAA Tournament darling Florida Gulf Coast on Friday evening in the Sweet 16, it stands to reason that people from Jersey City to Piscataway to Gainesville are thinking the same thing about that effort on this stage.
It’s about time.
“You just think about all those mornings you wake up throughout the season and preseason and especially summer workouts to prepare yourself for this moment right here,” Rosario told the media at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex. on Thursday afternoon. “We just want to take full advantage of this experience and what’s happening now and not feel like our team and our program is really locked in on what’s going on right now. As far as us as a whole, we’re just trying to take this experience to the next level and just go out there and compete.”
Rosario’s talent has always been evident, but mentally, there always seemed to be something missing. At least once during his senior year of high school, which would end with a 32-0 record and a consensus No. 1 national ranking, a team meeting needed to be held in an effort to rein Rosario in. Problems continued to persist under then-head coach Fred Hill at Rutgers, but the eventual transfer to Billy Donovan and Florida saved his career.
There has been some reeling in down at Florida over the last three seasons, but Donovan’s nature and demeanor as a tough disciplinarian has served Rosario well as he has been held accountable for his shortcomings.
For example, after failing to box out on one particular play against Northwestern State, Donovan put him on the bench for the majority of the game. Rosario accepted responsibility for the mistake and Donovan went right back to him on Sunday evening.
“Mike will assume responsibility,” Donovan said Sunday after the Minnesota game. “He is not a finger-pointer and is not blaming other people. The best thing about Mike is that Mike lets me coach him. I am on him all the time a lot because I want him to be the best he can be on and off the floor.”
These are the final days on the college basketball circuit for St. Anthony head coach Bob Hurley’s Class of 2008, among the most talented group ever assembled by the Hall of Famer. It seems fitting in a way that Rosario, the kid with the most talent within a group that produced six Division I scholarships, is the last one standing to carry the torch.
After a highly-productive college career at Kansas, Tyshawn Taylor is in his rookie season with the Brooklyn Nets, Tray Woodall (Pitt) saw his standout career come to an end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last week, Jio Fontan (Fordham, USC) had a promising career undermined by injuries, and the careers of A.J. Rogers (St. Joseph’s, Norfolk State) and Alberto Estwick (Fordham) could be defined as mixed bags.
Having been through a transfer along with his own set of problems during his college career, Taylor has been a guy for Rosario, his longtime friend, to lean on.
“Going into this tournament, his focus is just staying ready and trying to win,” Taylor told SNY.tv recently. “That’s the most important thing. The further his team goes, the more exposure he gets and the more opportunity he gets to perform and be that big time player that I know he is and his teammates know he is.”
Photo: Getty Images