Catching up With Men’s Hoops Alum Hayden Rooke-Ley ‘15

Hayden Rooke-Ley defending
Hayden Rooke-Ley defending

Hayden Rooke-Ley '15 (Eugene, OR) was a Political Science and Biology major and a three-year starter for the men's basketball team. He played in all 32 games as a freshman and healthy, averaging 19.3 minutes a game and averaging 6.6 points per game.

His first and third seasons the Ephs advanced to the Final Four in Salem, Va., losing in 2011 in the semifinals to Wooster, 73-71 and falling in the title tilt to Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2015, 75-73.

An assortment of injuries, one of which caused him to miss his junior year and obtain a medical red shirt waiver for that season, limited him to appearing in 96 of a possible 115 contests. In his four seasons of play Williams posted a combined record of 89-26 (.774).

He was the first NCAA Division III men's player to be named the United States Basketball Writers Association National Player of the Week December 9, 2014 after he set the NCAA Division III in-season free throw record, making his first 67 free throws of the season over a 9-game stretch. His streak ended in Springfield, Mass versus Springfield College when he made his first five free throws in a 67-59 Eph win.

In his last intercollegiate contest game at Bowdoin Rooke-Ley fouled out with 2:22 remaining in an 87-74 loss at Bowdoin in first round of NESCAC Tournament. His 28 points that day left him with 999 points in his career.

As a senior Rooke-Ley served as a co-captain of the 2015 Ephs and was named Second Team All-NESCAC.

He is one of five players for Ramat Hasharon B.C. who has appeared in at least 9 of the 10 games. He is averaging 16.2 minutes a game and 4.2 ppg. He is hitting on 58% of his threes (15-26), and he is 12 of 14 from the charity stripe (86%).

In July of 2015, Rooke-Ley signed a one-year professional contract to play for Ramat Hasharon B.C. in Israel. Classmate and former co-captain Dan Wohl '15 signed in August with Gilboa Galil, also in Israel and also in the National League (Second Division) with Hayden Rooke-Ley's team. The two teams have met twice already this season.

Do you have a free throw streak going?

"I wish! I think it's maybe around seven or eight, only spanning the last few games. I missed a couple prior to that. Not getting to the line nearly as often out here."

Word is that you are writing periodically about your experience for one of your hometown papers back in Eugene.

"Yes, I'm fortunate to be writing a column for a local paper back home, and they're allowing me to write about anything relating to my experience here in Israel. I actually just published my second piece, which was somewhat of a continuation of my impressions of "the conflict" over here. Looking ahead, there are a lot of aspects of this country that interest me, and about which I may write."

"I'm currently learning a lot about the health care system over here, and that's fascinating to me in comparison to ours. I also want to write about the style of basketball and how I see it as a microcosm of the disposition of Israelis."

Read Rooke-Ley's most recent column in The Eugene Weekly.

Give an update on how your team is doing. How much you are playing?

"As a team, it's been a turbulent year -- and that may be putting it mildly. We are currently 2-8 and have had substantial personnel and coaching changes. A few weeks ago, our coach was fired. I had mixed feelings about him. He's a great guy off the court, and his reputation and appreciation for my style of play was a big reason why I signed with this team. That said, he was a different type of coach, stylistically, than I was used to. Much more animated and...explosive. We had our share of altercations, but that is more of the norm out here, I think. People are very blunt, and nothing was taken personally between the two of us. Anyways, he was fired due to our record, and I am happy with his replacement thus far. I've remained in touch with him, and I think we'll be friendly forever. Especially off the court, he is a great guy.

"I particularly like our new coach Dan Gee because of his philosophical approach to the game, which coincides with how we played at Williams: offensively, an emphasis on threes, layups and free throws; defensively, less constant pressure on the ball (which is very prevalent out here), and more of focus on forcing tough shots and protecting the hoop ("protecting the president"), as coach Kevin App and coach Mike Maker would say."

What was it like playing against Dan Wohl's team?

"Playing against Dan for the first time was...weird, for lack of a better term. I couldn't believe that we were in a game together, but on opposite teams. I really didn't anticipate the feeling until I got out there with him."

"We've actually checked each other a decent amount in the two games we've played. I feel like I know everything he's going to do before he does it. It was funny -- in our scout meeting before playing them the first time, my coach asked me to tell the team everything I knew about his game, anything that I could add to the scouting report (which I thought was inaccurate to begin with). When asked, I couldn't get myself to say anything. Everyone gave me grief for that. I don't think they realized he's a like a brother to me."

There are 26 regular season games and then The Cup competition. How did your team do in their first Cup competition?

"We lost our first Cup game to Dan Wohl's team -- Gilboa Galil. Total coincidence that we drew them in the lottery. But that means we're done with the Cup competition that runs parallel to the regular season, although much more sporadically and with far less import."

Is the style of play in your league the same as DIII? Style not quality.

"Style is different -- a lot more so than I naively anticipated. The game is much more physical, and not just in the interior. Guards are allowed to use their hands and body much more on and off the ball, which definitely bothered me offensively when I got here. I'd say I'm more or less used to it at this point, although I am still shocked (usually in practice) at some of the pushing/grabbing/quasi-tackling that transpires. Feels like football, at times."

"Another big difference is the spacing -- the deeper three point line opens up the court a lot, making the screen and roll (S/R) game easier and forcing different kinds of defenses in the S/R, as oppose to the usual "hard hedge" that you seen in U.S. colleges. So in that sense, it's a lot more like what you would see at professional level in the U.S."

"The greater space also allows for a lot more random cutting, both to the basket and to the free-throw line area. I think that's also just a stylistic reality of international basketball that you see from a lot of the European players in the NBA. Some guys are really good at it. I'm terrible. Plus I'd rather just stand on the three-point line and shoot. It's worth more out there."

"Also, the shorter shot clock, as well, produces a lot of S/R. A lot of times -- especially against a press -- you don't have time to get into your sets, so you just play high S/R."

"Defensively, I'd say the biggest differences are foul usage and rotations. The strategy of using fouls is a really prominent aspect of defense, surely due to having four quarters (the fifth team foul in each quarter becomes a shooting foul) as opposed to halves. But that doesn't explain it all. Again, like the European game, players just grow up more partial to the statistical calculus of sending someone to the line."

"For instance, pretty much any fast break (certainly if the team is not yet in the bonus) will result in a purposeful foul before the dribbler gets by the defender. It's so common that it's essentially a symbolic foul -- you just reach for the dribbler and then put your hand up to indicate that you want a foul to be called. I hate it, especially in practice. I think it's soft and gives you an excuse to be lazy. But it's often the smarter play, I'll admit."

"As for the rotations, the biggest difference is switching. Guys here instinctually switch a lot more, sometimes triple, even quadruple, switches out of some actions to get out of the mismatch that was created by the primary or secondary switch. Again, I think that's a function of the space on the floor (forcing more switches) and just a tactical difference in how these guys learn the game."

What is normal non-game day like as a professional hoopster? How much time do you spend practicing with the team, working out on your own? How often does the team practice?

"Our practice times are sort of all over the place, but we go once a day, a little over three hours, in all. I usually go to the workout facility at a different time during the day, where there is a gym, weight room and pool to which I have access. The rest of the time, I do...whatever."

"It probably sounds boring (especially with what I do), but I love all the free time. I talk with family, friends, and my girlfriend a lot. I try to catch my favorite TV show each day -- "Morning Joe", on MSNBC, which comes on at 1:00 p.m. daily, here."

Rooke-Ley was in the '62 center Theatre the night that Morning Joe co-hosts Mika Brzezinski '89 and Joe Scarborough were there to talk about the effect of the 2010 midterm elections.

"I remember watching then at the '62 Center a few years back. But aside from that, I find it to be one of few television shows that seriously engages issues and politics. They're able to get really knowledgeable and prominent guests on their show, and they ask difficult questions from all reasonable ideological perspectives."

"I also listen to the radio every day -- primarily sports radio and conservative talk radio, which absolutely fascinates me. I don't have a car, so I spend a lot of time walking, sometimes listening to my favorite podcasts, both Israeli and American. Or listening to nothing. But I'd say most my free time is spent reading books and online publications and writing. Williams classes were great (well, a lot of them), but it's nice to be able to "learn" whatever I want, whenever I want."

"Socially, as I've gotten to know my teammate more, I've been spending more time with them off the court. I have also met two families here (though friends back home) who have totally taken me in and have me over for a Shabbat dinner frequently."

Have you traveled around Israel much without the team?

"Somewhat, yes. My dad visited a few weeks ago and we went to the Old City in Jerusalem and explored beyond the walls a bit, too, which, in all, was incredible and surreal. We also drove up to Haifa, which was fun, although sort of boring. Haifa doesn't have too much to offer. A really nice view of the Mediterranean, I suppose. I'm trying to plan a trip down south soon, especially because it is cooler where I am now."

Who are the other American(s) on your team?

"The American who has been with us the whole season is Billy McShepard. He's from North Carolina and played at D-2 Valdosta St. He's 28, I believe, and has played all over the place, from the NBA's D-league, to South America, to Europe and the Middle East. He's been battling some injuries this season but, when healthy, has been arguably the best player in the league. He's incredibly skilled for his 6'10" frame -- basically has guard skills in terms of shooting and dribbling and comfort away from the hoop. He's also a great guy and has really supported me directly and with the coaching staffs since I got here."

"Our other current American is Lorenzo Gordon. He's from St. Louis and played at the University of Illinois. Now 32, he, too, has played all over the place, notably in the First Division in Russia and Turkey, I think."

"Of more interest though(!), he and his fiancée were featured on "Basketball Wives," the show on VH1. There are some pretty hilarious videos of him online. He's also a great guy -- really friendly and positive. He has a 45-day buy-out clause in his contract, since signing. I hope he sticks around."

"Mel Cornley began the season as our second American. He played at Penn St. and was actually "Mr. Basketball" in Ohio during his high school days in Columbus. "DA" (Dan Aronowitz '17) actually knows him from summer hoops in Columbus."

"He was solid for us but got bought out about a month ago by a team in South Korea, where he fits the style much better as an undersized four. I think he got somewhere around four times the money, so you can't blame him for leaving. He really looked out for me when I got here, too, and I enjoyed getting to know him."

What has been the most eye-opening experience since you've arrived?

"Definitely my trip to Jerusalem, which I referenced above, and which I tried to articulate in the recent Eugene Weekly column I wrote."

Are you following Duncan Robinson at all?

"Of course! It's fun to see him out there, and I'm really happy for him and his family. In terms of college hoops, he's playing at the level that we at Williams all dreamed of. It's nice to see someone chase that dream -- and have some success in doing so. And it couldn't happen to a better dude."

"The only downside has been the media's portrayal of D-3 hoops! I obviously realize the urge to depict a Cinderella story -- and this is to take nothing away from 'Dunk's' well-deserved journey -- but your average follower might conclude that Williams gets players from the local YMCA and competes as an intramural sport. So that's my petty gripe as a former Williams' player who will always have the D-3 label -- and carry it with some juvenile bitterness. Haha!"

Have you run into any other Ephs in Israel?

"Yes, I actually hung out with Manny Yekutiel (11') in Tel Aviv a few weeks back. He was visiting family and traveling in Israel after moving on from his work on the Hillary Clinton campaign in San Francisco. It was fun catching up with him and getting his perspectives on Israel, having been here many times. Plus you love seeing Ephs anywhere."

Have you seen the Ephs play on the web?

"Yes! I've been able to catch at least parts of most games. They look like a really cohesive group that genuinely enjoys each other. I know coach App and the staff are doing a great job with them, and obviously, I wish them success after the break. As always, you just hope that they can get healthy and remain that way."

Follow Hayden Rooke-Ley's Israeli basketball exploits on the Ramat Hasharon website.

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