Leadership is an all-important quality in college basketball, often as important as the play on the court. Senior leadership is not something eyed in recruiting in high school; this intangible skill develops itself.
For graduating Harvard women’s basketball guard Taylor Rooks, however, the road to her senior year did not follow the typical path. The journey in her college career may have had its ups and downs, but it resulted in the Crimson leader finishing her playing days as an irreplaceable facet of the Harvard team.
The first deviation from the norm was that her career did not in fact start in Massachusetts; it began in Palo Alto, Calif. Initially, Rooks committed to Stanford University to continue her education and basketball career after high school. The Warren, N.J., native played 28 minutes in 12 games with the Cardinal, averaging 0.8 points and 0.6 rebounds. Rooks decided to transfer to Harvard before sophomore year.
“Transferring in and sitting out a season was definitely a lot,” Rooks said. “Within the first month of getting here, I developed a blood clot in my leg, which was terrible. I wasn’t able to work out for a month, I was completely sedentary for the most part. It really took me back a couple steps.”
"I wasn't able to work out for a month, I was completely sedentary for the most part. It really took me back a couple steps," senior Taylor Rooks said.
Her sophomore season saw no playing time due to NCAA transfer rules, and a larger chunk of her adjustment period was used recovering from injury, further slowing the process. Rehabbing and watching her new team from the bench proved a difficult challenge for the then-sophomore.
“It definitely wasn’t the easiest way to come in, and from sophomore year on it was a bit rough in that regard,” Rooks said. “I wanted to be on the court, and contributing to my team. Then again, it was a blessing in disguise that I was forced to sit out because I was injured.”
Heading into her junior year, Rooks was finally ready to start her playing career with the Crimson. Rooks started her assimilation with the team coming off the bench but quickly made an impact for Harvard, seeing action in all 30 games her junior season. After sitting out an entire season, this transition did not come without its challenges.
“I was trying to figure out my role on the team last season, get my basketball skills back up to high school level and freshman year of college after missing time,” Rooks said.
Although Rooks excelled, tallying seven double-digit scoring performances off of the bench, she still had more development to go leading into her final season. In the first game of the 2017-2018 campaign, Rooks showed what she could bring to the table with a 13 point, 13 rebound double-double in a loss to Dayton. Rooks would continue to prove her leadership on the court heading into the conference season. In the first Ivy game of 2018, a 63-56 loss to Dartmouth, Rooks scored a then-career-high 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to keep the Crimson in the game.
“Taylor was very consistent, she was very poised, I didn’t even get to rest her,” Delaney-Smith explained after the contest.
The leadership continued throughout the rest of the conference season. Only a few weeks later, Rooks netted 24 points for a new career best in a thrilling home victory over Brown.
“This past season, I finally felt like I was playing again,” Rooks said.
In her final campaign, Rooks finished with 12.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, earning a second-team All-Ivy League nod at the conclusion of the season.
“Looking back at it, I wish things had gone differently at times,” Rooks said, “But it was a great year to finish.”
Although the pathway was unconventional, Rooks completed her Harvard career in exceptional fashion. Her unorthodox route may have been trying, but it resulted in a comeback story capped off with an exceptional senior year that would make an outside observer oblivious to the fact that there was a comeback to be had.
“I am very thankful for having played at Harvard, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to have been an athlete here,” Rooks said.
—Staff writer Amir Mamdani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Joseph W. Minatel can be reached at email@example.com.