Michael Rosbash: From pick-up hoops to Nobel Prize

Professor Michael Rosbash focuses intently on the Judges' basketball fortunes (photo by Andrew Vatistas)
Professor Michael Rosbash focuses intently on the Judges' basketball fortunes (photo by Andrew Vatistas)

When Professor Michael Rosbash convened in Brian Meehan's office for his first basketball post mortem last November, he was the SECOND Nobel Prize winner to sit on the basketball coach's black couch.

"I had [2007 Nobel winner] Mario Capecchi with me one night, and I brought him along for our usual post-game discussion," Rosbash remembered. "The next day, I had to explain to coach Meehan just who had graced his presence."

Rosbash – who became Meehan's second Nobel Laureate when was awarded the Prize in Medicine and Physiology for his work on circadian rhythms in fruit flies last October - has been a proud supporter of Brandeis athletics for as long as he can remember. He's struck up friendships with the Brandeis coaching staff – starting with former men's soccer coach Mike Coven, who started at Brandeis at the same time as Rosbash, a remarkable 43 years ago.

 "[Rosbash] was in the gym all the time, playing basketball or swimming," Coven remembered.

Indeed, Rosbash and co-recipient and professor emeritus Jeffrey Hall met for the first time over a game of pick-up hoops.

"I got to know him better when Mark Skoultchi '90 was on my team," Coven continued. "Mark's dad knew Michael from MIT. Michael and I were always talking about soccer, and we went to a couple of World Cup games together [when the U.S. hosted in 1994]."

When it came to Meehan, the two got to know each other when Rosbash served on the hiring committee that brought him to campus in 2003.

"As that process went along, we developed a friendship," Meehan recalled. "It started on day one, and 14 years later, it's still going strong."

Rosbash has a regular spot in the Auerbach Arena bleachers for basketball doubleheaders, but he's not afraid to travel, either. Whenever the Judges have played in the NCAA tournament – whether it involved traveling to Bowdoin for the women's first appearance in 2006 or the men's Elite Eight run to Plattsburgh State in 2008 – Rosbash has been there.

Among his favorite memories have been the men's regular-season battles with Amherst. "I've loved experiencing those clashes, especially the ones on the road," Rosbash said, invoking a 2009 win that featured a double-double by his favorite player, Steve DeLuca BA '08, MS '13.

Rosbash's influence goes beyond soccer and basketball. One of the top members of the men's swimming and diving team is Tamir Zitelny '20. Though his brother, Edan '17, was also a swimmer for the Judges, Tamir was wavering between Waltham and another University Athletic Association school. "We asked Professor Rosbash to give Tamir a call," said director of athletics Lynne Dempsey '93. "Not long after, Tamir said he was coming to Brandeis."

"Given [Dr. Rosbash's] prominence in the scientific community, I always found his willingness to help student-athletes and his flexibility towards their schedules as nothing short of benevolent," Zitelny said. "In my encounters with him, Dr. Rosbash took the time to learn about me within my sport."

Rosbash has been an advocate for Brandeis athletics across the board. When Dempsey was looking to put together a Faculty Athletics committee, his was the first name on the list. "Michael has been so supportive of athletics over the years, that I knew we had to get him on board," Dempsey said. "And once he was a part of the committee, it became much easier to recruit other members of the faculty."

-- by Adam Levin '94, sports information director