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Kameron Rooks makes emotional return to McKale Center after father Sean’s passing

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This young man has had a lot to deal with both personally and in basketball in recent months

NCAA Basketball: California at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Kameron Rooks basically grew up in McKale Center. His father Sean played in 129 games for the Arizona Wildcats from 1988-92, averaging 11.6 points per game. He was also named All-Pac-10 his senior year.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been growing up here, going to his basketball reunions and watching him play, it was just weird coming back here,” Kameron said after Saturday’s game between Arizona and Cal.

Back in June, Sean collapsed and died in a Philadelphia restaurant at the age of 46 after meeting with the Knicks about a potential spot on the coaching staff earlier in the day.

Since this was Kameron’s first time back in Tucson after the passing of his father, Arizona decided it would make a small gesture and feature Sean at the end of the pregame “This Is Arizona” video.

“I’ve seen it before when I made my visit here, but it put a smile on my face,” Kameron said about seeing the intro video. “Every time I hear his voice, it puts a smile on my face, and I love seeing him, and that’s all I can see right now.”

“Before we put that on the video board, we got clearance from Cal,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller explained. “From their athletic director, Cuonzo as the coach, and Kameron, just to make sure that in our attempt to do something which I think is very meaningful and the right thing, that it would impact him in a good way and we didn’t want to impact him in a negative way.”

“He was aware we were going to do it, and he ok’d it,” Miller continued. “I think it was certainly the right thing to do for a lot of reasons. In some ways you wish you could do more, but I think that would have put too much pressure on him as a young person that had to play.”

“I really thank Sean for that because you don’t have to do that and that’s a big thing,” Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin said afterwards. “I just told him I thank you for that. This is important for a young man. His dad was a great player here, left his legacy, and his mom went to school here. This is just part of life.”

Arizona was recruiting Kameron out of high school, but ultimately he chose to play for the California Golden Bears instead of following in his dad’s footsteps.

“We recruited Kameron and obviously we knew Sean already and his mom as well, trying to get Kameron to come to Arizona,” Miller said about his pursuit of the younger Rooks. “He made the decision to go to Cal and he’s done really well.”

“We’re big fans of Kameron, and Cal’s a lot better team with him,” continued Miller. “He had ten points in 29 minutes and six rebounds. We hope he goes on and has a great career, but I’m really happy we were able to do that and our administration is the group that came up with the idea, and I think it backs up how much we care about our former players and their families.”

Rooks has had a lot to deal with in his three years at Cal. He’s suffered several injuries, including his most recent knee injury that kept him out of the first Arizona/Cal game this season.

“You just gotta stay positive,” Rooks explained about how he’s tried to cope with everything. “He always preached ‘trust the process’, so that’s what I’m doing right now. Of course I have my breakdowns, but that’s why I’ve got my coaches. They’re on me about my mental, they help me a lot.”

“I would usually go talk to my dad after games, but now I have to rely on my coaches and they always help too,” continued Rooks. “They’ve done a great job stepping in. Of course it’s not going to replace my dad, but they did a great job stepping in and keeping me focused.”

“It’s been emotional,” Martin added. “Ever since his dad passed away, that’s not going away overnight. That’s part of his life. I thought it would be a tough game for him, but I thought he played a great game.”

“He basically just says what my dad says,” Kameron said about what Martin says to him. “I’m just coming back from my injury. I gotta stay positive and I gotta keep working; I can’t just mope around and look beaten down all the time you know. I just gotta keep fighting.”

“My description as a coach is when you’re dealing with life situations, however you need me to be here: mentally, physically, whatever you need, that’s my job as a man moreso than a coach,” continued Martin. “We talk all the time, and I talked to his dad quite a bit. His dad was one of the few guys that I’ve been around as a parent, relaying information to Kam to help Kam become a better player. It wasn’t about coach is mistreating, coach won’t let him play, it was about what’s best for you.”

Despite not being able to physically see or speak to his dad anymore, Kameron says that Sean will always be there with him, and his words will have a lasting impact on his outlook on life.

“Three weeks into practice I just came out of practice and I just broke down. I wish I could talk to my pops,” added Kameron about the low point in all of this. “But I see him in my dreams and he’s talking to me and that’s cool. And I remember all his words and what he said back in the day and that always helps.”

“Trust the process, enjoy life, be positive, and don’t be negative at all,” Kameron added about the mottos he remembers most. “Sometimes my dad is a negative guy, but whenever it came to me he was always positive.”