While senior center Steve Goodrich was starting his 100th game and scoring his 1,000th point for the men's basketball team (16-1 overall, 4-0 Ivy League) last Saturday, Mason Rocca could only watch from the bench.
Rocca, Goodrich's sophomore backup and future replacement, played only one minute in the Tigers' defeat of Columbia. The six-foot, 10-inch Goodrich casts a long shadow, and Rocca – for one game at least – was sitting squarely inside of it.
But if Saturday was Goodrich's night, then the previous night's game against Cornell belonged to his backup. Rocca had the best game of his college career, posting 10 points and five rebounds in the Tiger's 86-61 romp over the Big Red.
After the Cornell game, the 6-7, 210-pound Rocca received what seemed like high praise from his coaches and teammates.
"He's a little bit of a rammer," head coach Bill Carmody said. "He's a bull. But we need some bulls on this team because we've got a lot of skinny guys out there."
"He's an ox," senior guard Mitch Henderson said, only half-jokingly. "He's a horse. He's a monster."
Rocca's muscular frame and spirited play underneath the basket might have prompted the slew of metaphors. Hailed by senior forward James Mastaglio as "probably the strongest guy we have on our team," Rocca has added a more physical dimension to Princeton, which so often relies on finesse passing and three-point shooting to overpower its opponents.
With Goodrich entrenched in the starting center position, Rocca's playing time varies nightly, and he only averages eight minutes a game. But he has made the most of his playing time, displaying a knack for offensive rebounding. Rocca converted two three-point plays on putbacks versus Cornell and his rebounds per 40 minutes is a stellar 11.7.
Back me up
Last year's reserve center, Jesse Rosenfeld '97, proved to be a steady and able backup, allowing Goodrich to play only 26 minutes per game. The loss of Rosenfeld to graduation left a gaping hole in the Tiger roster to start the 1997-1998 season, a hole that the untested Rocca was asked to fill.
"He was probably one of the biggest question marks before the season started," Mastaglio said. "People hadn't really seen him play that much."
So far, Rocca has filled in admirably for Rosenfeld. While Goodrich's playing time has increased to 32 minutes per game, Carmody need not worry when his star center gets in foul trouble. Despite giving up three inches and ten pounds to Goodrich, Rocca is the better rebounder of the two centers, according to Carmody.
Rocca takes pride in his ability to control the boards, but there is more to his game than just muscle.
Leaning the glass
"I definitely try and play hard, and rebounding is one of the things I'm good at," Rocca said, "but in terms of going out and trying to knock heads with people, that's definitely not what I'm trying to do.
"I just go in there and play hard and add some physicality to the game – but I don't think of myself as a brute force type of player."
With Dartmouth's imposing front line of center Asa Palmer and forwards Ian McGinnis and Shaun Gee – all of whom tip the scales at 220 pounds – awaiting the Tigers tonight, Rocca may be called upon to play significant minutes.
"It's very possible that (Goodrich) could be in foul trouble in that game," Carmody said. "We're going to need Mason."
Rocca likely won't have to watch from the bench this weekend. Goodrich's shadow is long, but Rocca's presence is growing by the minute.