Rodney Rogers grew up in Durham, N.C., playing pickup games in Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium. So it's not surprising that he felt comfortable enough there last Saturday to score a career-high 35 points in leading Wake Forest to a 98-86 win over the Blue Devils. Rogers, a 6'7" junior forward, also had eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals. "He was sensational," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, "and that's probably not giving him enough credit. I have a limited vocabulary. It was as good a performance as I've seen in 13 years in Cameron."
It was a fine homecoming for Rogers, whose memories of Durham aren't all happy ones. He lived in the McDougald Terrace housing project, where, says Rogers, "If guys aren't after you to buy drugs, they're after you to sell them." Even today, when he comes home for visits, his mother, Estella Spencer, doesn't let him go out at night. His father, Willie Wadsworth, died when Rodney was eight. One of his half brothers, Stacy, was born deaf, and his other half brother, Stanley, served 10 years in prison for armed robbery. When Rodney was 16, Estella was in an auto accident and was in a coma for almost three weeks.
Shortly afterward, she moved Rodney out of the projects, sending him to live with a high school teammate, Nathaniel Brooks, on the outskirts of Durham. Brooks's father, Nathaniel Sr., is a former high school teacher, and under his guidance Rogers blossomed both academically and athletically, making the honor roll and averaging 28.3 points and 12.3 rebounds as a senior.
Rogers has been Wake Forest's star from the moment he arrived in Winston-Salem. At the end of the week he was averaging 21.1 points and 7.3 rebounds for the 16-4 Demon Deacons, whose victory on Saturday put Duke into fourth place in the ACC, a half game behind third-place Wake. "Rodney's in the wrong league," says Richmond coach Dick Tarrant. "He's in the ACC. He should be in the NBA."
That will come soon enough, perhaps after this season, though Rogers says he has promised his mother he will get his bachelor's degree. Waiting another year for a big professional contract doesn't seem like such a hardship for Rogers, especially considering the ones he has already been through and survived.
NAME FOR THE GAME
His name alone should have indicated to Spencer Dunkley that he was destined to play basketball, but as a boy in Wolverhampton, England, the significance of his surname never occurred to him. "I was more concerned with soccer and cricket," says Dunkley. "I knew what a dunk was, but I certainly didn't think about it much. If my last name had been, say, Goalscorer, then I might have paid attention."
But Dunkley eventually found his way to the courts and to the U.S., where NBA scouts have found him. A 6'11" senior center at Delaware, he leads the Blue Hens in scoring (20.8 points per game at week's end), rebounding (13.5) and blocks (3.5). He has had some spectacular performances this season, including a 39-point, 15-rebound effort against Vermont last Saturday. In two games against Hartford center Vin Baker, a probable NBA first-round draft choice, he had a total of 39 points and 29 rebounds. Not bad for someone who began playing seriously only six years ago. Dunkley took up the sport in England when he was 16, largely because at 6'9" he felt like a giraffe on the soccer field. The following year he came to the States as an exchange student and played basketball his senior season at Newark (Del.) High.
Dunkley weighed only 180 pounds at the time, and since then, he has gained 60 pounds and a low-post game. Delaware coach Steve Steinwedel believes Dunkley hasn't begun to reach the limits of his ability. "I'm still learning things every day from people I play with and against," says Dunkley. "I realize everyone's got a head start on me. I grew up idolizing Maradona and Pelè, not Jordan and Bird."
However, Dunkley, whose parents are Jamaican, has taught his Delaware teammates a few things too. He introduced the Blue Hens to Jamaican dance-hall reggae, which they sometimes play during warmups. The music helps Dunkley feel at home, as does his weekly visit to a local Jamaican restaurant to get his fill of curried goat and other favorites. Dunkley works out with the soccer team when he can—he gets all the headers—but there is one aspect of home missing. "My parents wanted me to be a cricket legend," says Dunkley. "But I've pretty much given up on that. I find there aren't a great many cricket players in Delaware."
BEAST OF THE LEAST
Last Saturday, St. John's and Boston College, both lightly regarded in the preseason, met for first place in the Big East. Instead of being a thrilling game between two surprise teams, the Redmen's 65-61 victory was an ugly battle that demonstrated what's wrong with the Big East.
The game, which was typical of the brutal play in the conference this season, was marred by almost constant pushing and shoving and by five technical fouls. Despite this, St. John's coach Brian Mahoney said he didn't think the game was any more physical than other Big East games had been. The sad truth is, he's probably right.
When the teams actually played basketball, the results were just as ugly. A Boston College three-pointer was the only field goal in the last 3:21. The game had 36 turnovers, 20 by the Eagles, who shot a miserable 38% from the field. Then there was the ugliness that didn't show up in the box score, like poor shot selections, three missed layups and Boston College guard Gerrod Abram's missed dunk that left him facedown on the floor.
Still, the Redmen, 9-3 in the Big East and 14-6 overall following the win, deserve credit for making a mockery of the preseason poll of league coaches, in which they were picked to finish ninth. Having to replace retired coach Lou Carnesecca and three four-year starters, including Malik Scaly, now with the Indiana Pacers, St. John's was supposed to struggle. Instead, the Redmen have become a group of small egos, reveling in anonymity.
"We have better chemistry than last year's team," says guard David Cain. "The ball is shared more. Last year everyone knew Malik was going to take the big shot. But this year opposing teams don't know who's getting the ball at the end."
The achievements of St. John's notwithstanding, winning the Big East is no longer a prestigious accomplishment. It won't become one again until the league puts an end to bruising basketball. One step in that direction would be for referees to call games tighter; it may be the only way to make coaches rethink their approaches. "We need to play a lot tougher," said BC coach Jim O'Brien after the St. John's game. "We need to get some kids that are going to be a little bit nasty."
If that's the lesson the Big East coaches are learning from games like the one last Saturday, the league is really in trouble.
In an effort to stop his team's eight-game losing streak, Cal Irvine coach Rod Baker took his players to the school's natatorium. With the players standing at the pool's edge, he asked them to take one step forward if they trusted his system. They all took a step and wound up in the water. The next day the Anteaters beat San Jose State 73-64....
After Kentucky's 101-94 loss in Arkansas's raucous Barnhill Arena, Wildcat coach Rick Pitino called Barnhill "one of the better places to play. Take away the vulgarity, and this may be one of the best places of all time." It's hard to believe Pitino was offended. After Kentucky visited South Carolina on Jan. 23, Gamecock officials got 10 complaints about Pitino's language from fans sitting near the Wildcat bench.
DAVID L. JOHNSON
Rogers escaped the demons of his past and is now excelling for the Demons of Wake Forest.
Saturday's St. John's-BC game was an ugly reminder of why the Big East has fallen behind.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Purdue's Glenn Robinson, a sophomore forward, scored 71 points, sank five of nine three-pointers, grabbed 17 rebounds, blocked five shots and had four assists in wins over Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Sonja Tate, a 5'6" senior guard at Arkansas State, averaged 29.7 points and 13.3 rebounds to lead the Lady Indians over Alabama-Birmingham, Mississippi State and Southwestern Louisiana.
Senior guard Jeff Gore of The College of Saint Rose, a Division II school in Albany, N.Y., scored 88 points on 69% shooting and made 30 of 32 free throws in defeats of Concordia and C.W. Post.