“Rookie of the Year”
Today we received an exclusive interview with 7-time “King of the Court” and the undisputed G.O.A.T. of wall ball (handball) in New York City. His charm and charisma wins over fans like a cool breeze on a summer day, but don’t sleep on the King because in his own words “I’m a nice guy but on the court I go to WAR.”
John “Rookie” Wright III was born on March 19th in Manhattan, NYC to two young parents who to this day he regards as his best friends. Although an exceptional basketball player, at the early age of 16 he picked up a handball on the Lower East Side (L.E.S.) at Thompkins Square Park and was hooked! “I originally was drawn to the handball court because of the girls. I just wanted to impress them and they didn’t really hang around the basketball court so I acted like I played handball just to get their attention. Once I picked up the little blue ball I immediately fell in love with the sport. I became infatuated and at one point obsessed. I use to think it was a sissy game but I realized quickly that the only difference between handball and any other sport was that it has yet to be sanctioned. There are so many health benefits. I mean look at me, I’m 43 years old and in great shape! Even the technicality of it is intriguing. You have to have a range of skill and motion in order to dominate in the sport while having mastered hand-eye coordination” says Rookie.
Indeed, if you are familiar with the game you are well aware of the discipline it takes in order to play at a competitive level and when asked why he believes he’s been able to dominate even past what is arguably his prime, Rookie offers this advice to the up-and-coming… “I came up in an era where everyone was a beast. The youth today are missing the fundamentals of the game because they are so athletic. Back in the day a lot of the top players like Buddy, Angel Marquez and Billy “The Kid” didn’t have two hands so they mastered positioning and basic “court-sense.” I like to refer to it as “old school teaching.” The other aspect of it is all mental. Half of these guys haven’t fully developed their game mentally because they are comfortable playing people at their level. I got the name “Rookie” by constantly challenging the best. I know that sounds crazy, but because I had the will, heart and determination and I always stepped in the box even if I felt like someone was better than me. Then one day I finally snagged one of the veterans, Fred Lynch who still is an amazing singles player well into his 60’s. After defeating him people started calling me “Rookie of the Year.” Eventually, they dropped “of the year” and the name Rookie was how people identified me. The funny thing is I never actually won a B (amateur) tournament. I always lost under pressure in tournaments even though I could beat half those guys in a pick-up street game. That’s when I started to develop what I also like to call “veteran experience.” I never let that get me down and I trained like a real professional athlete. I fight as much as I can. I play to win.”
After winning the 2016 K.O.T.C. title the 7th time we asked the King how he managed to pull it off against one of the most talented athletes the sport has seen in this decade.
“One of the biggest problems I see in a lot of these young top players is their ego. You have to respect an athlete’s ability first, before even thinking you can compete against him. Timbo forces people to train but one thing people fail to realize about him is the fact that he is only playing at 60% of his capability. He’s that good! In my opinion, he wins off of sheer heart, determination and drive. He’s fast, athletic and doesn’t give up but he has yet to master the basics of handball which is actually a compliment. In addition, no one has really ever come along that was a challenge to him. I see potential in a lot of these guys, like Kadeem Bush but he reminds me a lot of me when I was his age. He’s still not fully coordinated but when he gets to that point he’s also going to be an amazing athlete. When I was in the middle of the tournament I was almost taken out by a “B” (amateur) player because of the heat. That’s when you have to rely on experience and go back to the basics. You can’t out-run someone who has mastered the angles of the court. You also can’t get into a volley match with Timbo because you will go night, night!”
In closing, it’s not hard to see how Rookie maintains his positioning in the rankings of young up-and-coming athletes. If you are lucky enough to face him in a match you are better off learning from him then attempting to beat him. These days Rookie is looking forward to the growth of the sport rather than his own personal gain. “I genuinely love handball and want to see these guys benefit from the potential of another professional sport. It’s the players that determine the outcome of a tournament. They entertain the fans and the fans buy the tickets. If they get their act together there is no limit to how successful they can be!”
Congratulations to the “Rookie of the Year” and our new “Player of the Week” – John “Rookie” Wright III.