Friday, February 26, 1999

5-4 dynamo blocks XU's title path

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The biggest obstacle to Xavier's third straight Atlantic 10 West Division title will be the littlest guy on the court.

        When the Musketeers (20-8) play Saturday at George Washington with a championship on the line, they will have to contend with the emotion of GW's Senior Day, which will honor — among others — 5-foot-4 point guard Shawnta Rogers, the leading candidate for the league's player of the year award.

        “He certainly gets my vote,” Virginia Tech coach Bobby Hussey said. “He can hurt you in so many ways.”

        Rogers leads the Atlantic 10 in scoring (20.2), assists (6.9) and steals (3.6) — no player has ever led the league in those three categories — and free throw percentage.

        He has been helped by new coach Tom Penders' offensive system, which allows Rogers greater freedom. Under former coach Mike Jarvis, now at St. John's, and with 7-foot-1 center Alexander Koul, Rogers was often asked to look inside first to the big man.

        He's the big man now.

        Penders says that without Rogers his team is “probably about 4-20.”

        “He has the ability to just take over games,” Penders said. “I've been coaching for 28 years and he might be the smartest player I've ever coached.”

        Rogers is the smallest starter in Division I basketball and a top candidate for the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award, which goes to the nation's best player under 6 feet tall.

        He can recall days on the Baltimore playgrounds when he wasn't chosen for pick-up games and had to call “winners”' just to get on the court. Even after his career at Lake Clifton High School, when he was named player of the year by the Baltimore Sun,, Rogers was told he'd never make it in Division I college basketball.

        “To me, the size doesn't make a difference,” he said. “It's not a factor. People can say that I'm too small, but when I go out there nobody can prove that I'm too small to play the game.

        “It's always going to be like that for me. I'm a competitor. When people tell you that you can't, you always want to prove them wrong.”

        He's led George Washington to an 18-7 record by scoring in double figures in all but two games, including Wednesday night, when he was sick and had just one point. Rogers had a career-high 36 points against Dayton on Jan. 14 — the highest total in the A-10 this season.

        “If he was 6-foot-3 and had the numbers he was putting up, Dick Vitale would be pumping him every week,” Penders said.

        “He carries a certain disposition on the court, totally in control,” Hussey said. “I've never seen him frown, I've never seen him put his head down, I've never seen him lose his cool.”

        Rogers handles the ball like it's attached to his hand. He's got great court vision and long range on his jump shot.

        He grabs rebounds in traffic. Defensively, he'll simply swipe the ball from an opposing player coming up the court. He's the proverbial guy who makes his teammates better.

        “He does things without being spectacular, without putting the mustard on the hot dog,” Penders said. “He doesn't do anything that's not necessary. He never tries to show anybody up, and he doesn't trash talk.”

        “He's the thief of Baghdad,” Rhode Island coach Jim Harrick said. “You can't come near the kid or he's going to take your shirt off. He'll unbutton you twice before you know it.”

        “He understands that winning is the most important thing once the game starts, and he'll do whatever it takes to help his team win the game,” Xavier coach Skip Prosser said.

        A statistical analysis of the nation's top point guards, which includes scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and scoring involvement, leaves Rogers rated No. 1, ahead of big names like Utah's Andre Miller, Arizona's Jason Terry, Michigan State's Mateen Cleaves, UCLA's Baron Davis and Connecticut's Khalid El-Amin.

        “I'm confident in what I am doing at all times,” Rogers said. “I still don't think I've gotten as much (attention) as I deserve, but it's coming.”

        Still, Rogers draws inevitable comparisons to 5-foot-3 Muggsy Bogues, who is in his 12th season in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors.

        “He's a much better player than Muggsy,” Temple coach John Chaney said. “Muggsy can't shoot as well this kid.

        “There isn't any question that he's the most valuable player in our conference, and I think he will make it to the next level. This guy is a sure winner, a sure fit for the NBA.”

        Rogers has been invited to the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational pre-draft camp.

        “Why not Shawnta Rogers?” NBA director of scouting Marty Blake said. “We're going to give him every opportunity.

        “Look at Bogues. Look at Earl Boykins. What's the difference? Don't get the idea that there is a flood of 5-5 guys that are going to come into the league, but this guy's got special skills.”


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