Gator co-captain retires from life on court

SF State guard Phoenix O'Rourke drives by a Sonoma State defender on Feb. 19 at the SF State gymnasium. The Gators beat Sonoma 58-55. Eric Soracco / staff photographer

After four years of practices, wins and losses, and new and old teammates, senior guard and co-captain Phoenix O’Rourke stepped under the flourescent lights of “The Swamp” to play what could be his final collegiate game.

“If we lose on March 1, it would suck but, win or lose, it won’t ruin four great years here,” O’Rourke said before the basketball game. “I’ve had a great career here”

The Gators hosted their first California Collegiate Athletic Association playoff game on March 1 against Cal Poly Pomona. O’Rourke put up nine points and made a career high five steals.  But the Gators lost 69-66 in overtime. The loss was O’Rourke’s final game in his career.

But O’Rourke has no regrets and has learned important lessons from his years of playing basketball.

Named after the mythical bird of fire, Phoenix O’Rourke started playing basketball at a young age. His father, Ronald, put the ball in his hands at the ripe age of five and taught him the game.

According to his mother Julie, Phoenix’s basketball development began in the backyard.

“When he was a kid it seemed that he wanted to be a professional athlete,” she said. “Being the youngest of three boys, one four years older and one nine years older, and having a family that loves sports, all kinds of sports, he just seemed to develop a love for it. That was all he was really interested in.”

Still, the basketball career of the San Mateo native took a considerable blow and could have easily ended just five years after it began. Phoenix was only 10 years old when his father unexpectedly died of a heart attack.

“His father was his basketball coach and coached the teams he was on for years,” Julie O’Rourke said. “They had a player and coach as well as a father and son relationship. His father was very competitive and took coaching seriously. Ronald was also an athlete. He did track and field and played football.”

For the last 11 years, Phoenix’s mother and two older brothers, Orion and Ronnie, have raised him and made sure that he continued to play the game he loves.

“The biggest person in my life has been my mom,” O’Rourke said. “My mother encouraged and influenced me to continue with basketball. Basketball was one of the things that kept my mom’s mind off my dad’s death. I’m only a 30-minute drive away from her. Having my family and friends at all my home games has been real nice.”

At six feet, 185 pounds, O’Rourke is the Gators’ all-time leader in games played, steals and three-point field goal attempts. He played 115 games, recorded 143 steals, and shot 497 three pointers in his four years at SF State.

Senior guard and co-captain Marquel Hoskins recalls the first time he met Phoenix on one of his recruitment trips to SF State from Reedley College. Hoskins describes O’Rourke as being a natural born leader and an honest guy who always says what’s on his mind.

“It was Phoenix who took me bowling, showed me around, and gave me a good SF State welcome,” Hoskins said. “As a captain, there’s never a day that he doesn’t go hard. His hard work has obviously paid off because he’s broken a lot of records. He’s as big of a competitor as I am and that’s the type of teammate I like because I am the exact same way.”

Although O’Rourke may hold outstanding individual records at SF State, it’s what he does off the court that Hoskins appreciates most. According to Hoskins, there is nothing Phoenix won’t say or do to his teammates, including occasionally pulling a prank or helping out a teammate in need.

“When we were in L.A. this season, he hid in my closet and jumped out trying to scare me,” Hoskins said. “He did that to a couple of other players too. I also remember one day he came over to my house and saw that I didn’t have anything in the fridge. Two days later, he brought over some rice and teriyaki. I’m honored to be a co-captain with Phoenix because he’s a real stand up guy who doesn’t sugarcoat nothing. He doesn’t hold back or bite his tongue and that’s why I respect him. He’ll tell you things even if you don’t want to hear them.”

O’Rourke averaged 6.6 points, started 58-consecutive games, was a two-time team co-captain, was named to the Athletic Department’s Honor Roll each semester, only missed two practices, and helped his team achieve a 64-51 record during his career. He has also played an integral part in the team accepting first-year head coach Paul Trevor to the SF State basketball program.

“My time with coach Trevor has been amazing,” O’Rourke said. “He has exceeded my expectations. During the interview process of the head coaches, Trevor stuck out the most. I respect Dr. Michael Simpson’s decision.”

According to coach Trevor, O’Rourke is a true competitor that possesses great leadership. Not only does Phoenix lead by example on and off the court, but he is also in large part, responsible for the team winning 14 games in the California Collegiate Athletic Association this season.

“I talked to Phoenix about being the face of SF State basketball,” Trevor said. “He was here when the team was struggling in the beginning and now he’s helped build this program to where it is today.”

When he is not lighting it up on the gym floor, the business management major likes to lift weights, play golf, attend San Francisco Giants games, and watch Golden State Warriors games and ‘Jersey Shore.’

Something many people do not know about O’Rourke is that he has a minor case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“As for the OCD, everything has to be neat,” O’Rourke said. “My roommates know that everything needs to be perfect.”

Friends and teammates also describe the competitive player as very intense.

“I always get made fun of by my teammates because I yell at them or the ref on the court,” O’Rourke said. “I don’t like losing.”

As for his future after college, O’Rourke is going into the police academy after graduation and will have a degree in marketing to fall back on if the police route doesn’t pan out.

O’Rourke decided that he wanted to be a police officer in his junior year of high school. At Junipero Serra High School, he took an interest in law enforcement after speaking to a police officer.

According to Phoenix, being a team captain the last two seasons has toughened him up for the academy.

“I’ve handled some pretty big guys on the court,” he said. “I’m not scared of being a cop.”

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