Shawnta Rogers, George Washington's 5'4" senior point guard,
chuckles as he harks back to his freshman season, when he walked
onto the floor of Hearnes Center at Missouri and was greeted by
a horde of Tigers fans painted blue and singing the Smurfs'
theme song. He giggles whenever he sees a sign in a hostile
basketball crowd that reads GET SHORTY or he hears the chant,
"Stand up! Stand up!" Rogers can afford to laugh these days.
It's the last laugh.
Through Sunday, Rogers, the shortest starter in Division I, was
leading the Atlantic 10 in scoring (22.0 points per game),
assists (6.9) and steals (3.8), and he could become the first
player ever to lead the conference in all three categories for a
season. (He was also atop the Atlantic 10 in free throw
shooting, at 85.2%.) He ranked seventh in the nation in assists
and first in steals. In fact, of the 14 point guards nominated
for the John Wooden player of the year award, Rogers was tied
for first in scoring with Arizona's Jason Terry, was fourth in
assists and, most astonishingly, third in rebounding (4.1). "I
know this sounds a little crazy," says Colonials first-year
coach Tom Penders, "but I've been coaching 28 years, and Shawnta
is the most dominant player I've ever had. He can shoot from
deep, he's a great passer, he can steal the hubcaps off a car
going 70 miles per hour, and he's like guarding smoke. You just
can't catch him."
After leading Baltimore's Lake Clifton High to its second
straight Maryland Class 4A championship as a senior, Rogers
moved into George Washington's starting lineup three games into
his freshman season. He's the Colonials' career leader in
assists and steals, and this season he has won tight games
against Old Dominion and LaSalle with buzzer-beating jumpers.
Through Sunday he had led George Washington to a 16-6 record
(10-2 in the conference) while playing U.S. ambassador on a
roster that includes 10 foreign players from eight countries.
Still, Rogers is dogged by the basketball world's obsession with
height. He was listed at 5'3" until his sophomore year, when he
was asked to switch to number 54 as a promotional stunt to
complement 7-foot center Alexander Koul who wore 45. After
Rogers's shot beat LaSalle a couple of weeks ago, Explorers
coach Speedy Morris delivered an unintentionally backhanded
compliment by saying, "Rogers is the best 5'4" player who's ever
February 22, 1999
"Sometimes I wish I were taller because then if I had these
numbers, my size wouldn't be an issue," Rogers says. "I think I
deserve to be player of the year in the conference, but I don't
expect it because I've been overlooked my whole life."
Red Auerbach, a George Washington alumnus and a longtime friend
of Penders's, is convinced that Rogers can succeed in the NBA.
"At first I was skeptical about who Rogers could guard," says
Auerbach, a regular visitor to GW's practices, "but after
watching him, the real question is, Who can cover him? I think
he'll have a good NBA career--and not just as a crowd-pleasing
gimmick on the end of somebody's bench."
Penders, who as a 5'11" point guard in the mid-1960s twice led
Connecticut to the NCAA tournament, understands how desire can
overcome a lack of size. "When you're constantly being
discounted, you learn to take advantage of every opportunity,"
he says. "Shawnta's the kind of kid who meets a polar bear on
Thursday and is wearing a white fur coat on Friday."