Long before Sean Rooks was on an NBA coaching staff, he embraced the same role as a veteran player. As rookies came into the league, Rooks took them under his wing, offered them guidance, encouragement and direction to navigate this new world of pro basketball.
Keyon Dooling was one of those rookies in 2000. He was one of four first-year players on the Clippers, while Rooks was the second-most experienced. Rooks stepped up as a shoulder to lean on.
“He was like the big uncle,” Dooling told CSNPhilly.com. “We had a difference of age, but he really showed us the way.”
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Rooks passed away on Tuesday evening at the age of 46. He most recently worked as the Sixers player development coach, and was sought after for other coaching opportunities in the NBA and D-League (see story).
Dooling remembers Rooks for how he helped shape the careers of many players, both while Rooks was one himself and later in his career as a coach.
Rooks urged his younger teammates to carry themselves with professionalism. Even though the Clippers were struggling, Rooks emphasized the importance of playing their best every game, as there were always other organizations around the league watching.
“I was fortunate enough, he was my shooting partner in the morning,” Dooling said. “We played H-O-R-S-E against one another each day. That was his way of pouring into me, encouraging me and helping me with my jumpshot. To see his transition from a player to a coach, he was really coming into his own. It’s really a sad day for the NBA brotherhood. Really sad.”
Rooks also taught them about life off the court. Dooling and his fellow rookies were eating dinner at chains such as Bennigans, Chili’s and T.G.I. Friday’s. Rooks told them about finer restaurants, and even the best temperature at which to order a steak.
When they packed for games, Rooks suggested they purchase a toiletry bag. Bring your own cologne, shower shoes and lotion, Rooks noted, and don’t expect to borrow from other teammates.
Their conversations weren’t all about life lessons. When Rooks wanted to bond with his younger counterparts, he played video games with them to unwind and get to know them on a personal level. Rooks remembered those details, and often inquired about family, friends and interests when he would run into those players years later.
“It was always that big smile, that warm hug,” Dooling said. “When he would talk to you, you felt like you two were the only people on the planet. He would give you his undivided attention.”
Upon learning of Rooks’ passing, Dooling spoke to Quentin Richardson, who was also a rookie on the Clippers that season. They reminisced about the way Rooks impacted their careers, recalling fond memories from years back.
“I’m just going to really miss my friend, my buddy, my mentor,” Dooling said.