Rydeiah Rogers remembers the exact moment she fell in love. With basketball.
It was nearly a year ago, long after she’d gone through serious crushes with cheerleading, ballet and tap-dancing – “the girly things,” as Rogers’ mom calls them. The switch occurred on a dank March afternoon in Greensboro, when Rogers’ Myers Park girls basketball team succumbed to West Forsyth, 43-40, in the Class 4A state semifinals.
It was the Mustangs’ only loss in a 32-game season, and it hurt like a son-of-a-gun. Rogers was distraught, and the pain of losing didn’t simply go away as it had when she first took up the sport that made her father, former NBA player Rodney Rogers, famous.
But as Rogers sat on the bench with five fouls in the final moments of the West Forsyth defeat last year, that’s when she knew: Basketball no longer was a game for her – it was a passion.
“I guess I started liking basketball around sixth grade,” Rogers said, “but I really knew I was in love with it last year, when we lost. That was one of the worst feelings ever. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Me and my sister, we just sat around the house for a few days and didn’t even pick up a basketball. We were so devastated about it.
“That really showed me how much I loved the game. As soon as I fouled out, I just realized that we lost. It hit me pretty deep. I never want to feel like that again. That’s why me and the rest of my team get in the gym and work now. Because all of us love the game a lot.”
So with a renewed focus, a new coach and added dimensions to what already was a considerable skill set, Rogers has attacked the 2012-13 season with fervor. The sophomore forward said she spends more time working on “the little things” in her sport. Take, for instance, the day she spent alongside teammate Morgan Uptegraff last week practicing dribbling with goggles obstructing their view.
She watches more hoops on TV now. She tries to absorb every morsel of the vast knowledge Myers Park’s decorated first-year coach, Barbara Nelson, has to impart. And when Rogers recently was asked what her hobbies away from basketball are, she quickly responded, “Basketball.”
The added attention to detail has paid dividends. Entering Myers Park’s Friday, Feb. 8 game at South Mecklenburg, the 6-foot-2 Rogers is leading one of the nation’s best squads in scoring (14 points per game), rebounding (8.8) and blocked shots (2.4), and she’s tied with junior Saadia Timpton for tops on the team in steals (3.2).
More important, Rogers said, is the Mustangs’ sparkling 21-0 record, which currently has them ranked14th in the land by USA Today, higher than any team (boys or girls) in North Carolina.
“We’re good enough to go farther than we did last year, and we’ve got to do it,” she said. “We’ve got to do whatever it takes to make it happen.”
Many people know about Rogers’ lineage on the hardwood. While attending Durham, N.C.’s Hillside High in the late 1980s, her dad was one of the country’s top recruits. He eventually signed with Wake Forest University and enjoyed a 12-year NBA career. Rogers’ older sister, Roddreka, was the top player on last year’s Myers Park squad and now is a productive freshman on the Georgia Tech women’s squad.
Despite that hoops heritage, Tisa White Rogers is shocked that her middle child has developed such a love for the game.
“She was always a girly girl,” Tisa said with a laugh. “She was always in ballet and tap, and she really seemed to love that. I think that helped her with her coordination.
“One day, I was at the gym with my oldest daughter, and the other basketball parents were like, ‘Let (Rydeiah) try out!’ She was 8 at the time, and she tried out for a 10-year-old AAU team. She made the team, and she’s been ballin’ ever since then.”
Rogers’ mom said she marvels at some of the things Rydeiah, affectionately called “D.D.” by the people closest to her, is able to do on the court.
“My friends who haven’t talked to her or seen her in a while,” Tisa said, “are always like, ‘Man, we wouldn’t have ever guessed D.D. would be playing basketball! She was always too girly!’”
Rogers vividly remembers her girly-girl days.
“I used to be a cheerleader, and I was into gymnastics and all that,” she said. “I was a lot more into those things. But now I’m definitely a basketball player, and I feel like I’ve grown a lot since last year.”
The scary part is that many people believe she can be better – a whole lot better.
Rogers’ father was a chiseled 6-7 forward who once dunked so hard in a high school game that a light affixed to the top of backboard went tumbling to the floor. Her 5-11 elder sister was known for her prowess on the interior, boxing out and corralling rebounds with authority. But while Rogers has the ability to be dominant inside, she’s more of a graceful athlete, adept at scoring against and defending smaller players while swooping in for rebounds against taller ones.
But Rogers said Nelson, who arrived at Myers Park this past fall after successful stops at Providence Day School and Wingate University, is helping her expand her game.
“She’s helped me become a better post player,” Rogers said. “I don’t like playing with my back to the basket. My sister was better at that than I was. But Coach Nelson says I have a gear that I don’t show every game. She said she’s seen it in a few games and that I need to start showing that gear all the time. So I try to push myself to find that gear.”
Nelson has coached some of Charlotte’s best girls players – including All-Americans such as Konecka Drakeford, Natasha Brackett and Epiphany Woodson – and also has experience coaching some of the country’s best high school players with the Team USA program. If Rogers can consistently stay in that “gear,” Nelson said, the sky truly is the limit for the 15-year-old.
“I think the ‘gear’ is what separates the kid from being a mid-major (college) kid to being a big-time kid,” Nelson said. “When you think about (former Connecticut star) Maya Moore, when you think about the kids that have been really good, like (former N.C. State and WNBA standout) Andrea Stinson, they had another gear that, when they got to it, kids couldn’t stay with them. D.D. has that gear.
“D.D. doesn’t know how to put her foot on the gas to get to it as often. She almost sputters at times. I don’t know if that’s insecurity or what. Maybe it’s not wanting to risk failure. That’s when you really grow – when you risk failure, when you say, ‘I’m going to risk not looking very good. I’m going to risk not making this move.’ And D.D. is maturing into taking risks so that she can move into that extra gear. And when we see it, it’s pretty phenomenal.”
Rogers admits, though, that the weight of carrying her family name can be immense, especially in the basketball-crazed Tar Heel State.
“It’s kind of stressful, because people expect you to be at a certain level in your game,” she said. “Because my dad was an NBA player, they expect me to be this amazing player. I guess sometimes my game might disappoint people. I’ve heard people say it before. Someone will say, ‘That’s Rodney Rogers’ daughter,’ and they’ll say, ‘Oh, she’s not all that! You can’t tell that’s his daughter.’
“But I really want a name for myself. I don’t want to be in his footsteps or my sister’s footsteps. I want to be Rydeiah – not Rodney’s daughter or Roddreka’s sister.”
But now that she knows the depth of her love for basketball, Rogers said she’s not willing to let anything stop her – not the naysayers, not the Mustangs’ opponents and definitely not the pain of last year’s disappointing semifinal defeat.
“I’m definitely a dreamer,” she said. “There are a lot of things that I want. I want to play (Division I) basketball. I want to get better as a player. I want people to look at me and say, ‘Oh, that’s D.D. She’s really good.’ But I think if we keep winning, those things will take care of themselves.
“I’m going to put in 100 percent to make sure I don’t feel that feeling I had last year again. Hopefully, we’ll come home with a ring, but I want to at least get past that game into the championship. If something happens and we end up losing, I’ll at least be happy that we went farther than we did last year. I’ll know we grew as a team.
“And that’ll definitely be a special feeling.”