Jason Rogers played so little in his four-year Virginia career that he was unsure he would start his final home game until told for certain a few hours before. Once on the court, he glanced at the scorer's table during every break in play, assuming someone was being sent in to take his place.
No one was.
"I definitely was looking over there, thinking I was going to be taken out," Rogers said. "After awhile, I realized, 'Hey, I'm actually out here contributing.' "
Rogers did more than contribute, serving as the catalyst to Virginia's 80-78 overtime victory over Maryland on Sunday in front of 7,307 in Charlottesville, including Rogers's father, Randolph, who Rogers credited with teaching him perseverance during the long games sitting on the bench, and his mother, LaVerne, so supportive that she once chased down an opposing player after a hard foul during one of her son's high school games.
"Jason Rogers gave us tremendous energy," said Virginia Coach Pete Gillen, whose Cavaliers snapped a seven-game losing streak. "We've been missing that for a long time."
His name chanted periodically from the opening tip, Rogers contributed 12 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes, all career highs. Playing on emotion more than technique, Rogers was beaten to the basket on occasion but recovered for three blocks, aggressively set screens on offense, sank an admittedly ugly hook shot and even swooped in for a fast-break dunk that brought the University Hall crowd to its feet.
"From where I took off, I was just thinking, 'Lord, just let me make it to the rim,' " Rogers said. "I really didn't know if I would until I heard the crowd roar."
Born in Fairfax, Rogers was the Virginia Group AA player of the year as a senior at R.E. Lee-Staunton High but was anchored to the bench since his freshman season, playing in 40 games over three years, never more than 11 minutes. Before Sunday, he had scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 14 minutes spread over nine games this season.
"We were saving him for four years just for this moment," Gillen said on Sunday.
Rogers, at 6 feet 11, has been the Cavaliers' tallest player for four years, but Virginia continued to recruit other big men after he arrived in Charlottesville. Gillen, who has long desired a center, wanted to redshirt him as a freshman, but Rogers' family declined. Although Rogers ultimately bulked up to his present 230 pounds, the coaching staff feared he was skinny enough to be pushed around on defense and too raw offensively to contribute much in the paint.
"That's the best he's played in four years," Gillen said Sunday. "He hasn't played like that in practice."
Throughout, Rogers remained cheerful, rationalizing that his degree in Virginia's architecture school was worth more than playing time at another school. He earned the team's Best Attitude award in each of the past three seasons and was named a team captain before this season.
"It couldn't have ended any better," Rogers said. "It really couldn't have."