Rogers, a junior at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, might be the most unlikely scoring threat in the country. At 5-foot-2, he is the shortest Division I player in years. In a big man’s sport, Rogers has figured out how to use his unusually small size to his advantage, launching bombs from behind the three-point arc, lofting running floaters from the paint and twirling in artistic scoop shots near the hoop.
“I’m definitely comfortable with what I am,” he says. “I can do whatever I want now, so why would I think about being something I’m not?”
He might be unfazed, but the college game isn’t accustomed to a player such as Rogers. His father was an undersized sensation, too, more than two decades ago at George Washington University, but at 5-4, Shawnta Rogers still had two inches on his son.
ScholarshipStats.com crunched the numbers on 5,341 Division I men’s basketball players going back to the 2016-17 season and found only two players shorter than 5-7 and none shorter than 5-5. The average height was a hair under 6-5, and the most common height listed was 6-7.
Ken Pomeroy, the college game’s stats guru, says Rogers is the shortest Division I player going back to at least 2007, when he started keeping track of such things. There was a 5-2 walk-on at Southeastern Louisiana a few years ago, and Stephen F. Austin had a 5-3 starting guard named Eric Bell from 2008 to 2010. But Rogers is different. He is an impact player who is confounding foes not despite his size but often because of it.
The Retrievers have raced to a 6-1 record, and Rogers is averaging 11.3 points per game, slightly off his pace from last year, when he topped 20 points three times before injuries shortened his season. After Rogers was granted a medical redshirt, he returned to the starting lineup and is finding plenty of ways to contribute. This month, he dished out five assists in UMBC’s win over George Washington. The next night, in a win over Delaware, he grabbed a game-high eight rebounds.
UMBC Coach Ryan Odom says he considers Rogers’s height an advantage. He explains that other players on the court have no experience playing against someone so short and so quick. Rogers, on the other hand, has spent his entire life going up against taller opponents.
“It’s something you can’t duplicate in practice,” he says. “You can study film all you want — until you play against him, it’s hard to know what you need to do.”
Rogers, a Baltimore native, doesn’t know any different. At 5-foot, his mother is four inches shorter than his dad. Shawnta was named the Atlantic 10 player of the year in 1999, when he averaged 20.7 points, 6.8 assists and 3.6 steals per game. He was later inducted to the George Washington Hall of Fame and is still considered one of the best all-around players the school has produced. Tom Penders once called him the “best basketball player in America,” and another Colonials coach, Mike Jarvis, said, “There isn’t another point guard in the country I’d trade him for.”
Shawnta spent 11 years playing professional basketball overseas, and Rogers spent large chunks of his childhood in France and Italy, hanging around practices and games. He learned to speak French and played soccer, but life abroad always revolved around the gym, where his dad was doing things on the court that tiny guards rarely get a chance to do at high levels. So when a school-age Rogers saw his dad charge into the paint or pull up from 25 feet, he thought that was just normal.
“I always told him, ‘This is what you’re going to face,’ ” Shawnta says. “‘You’re going to face guys that are taller, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Your height is not going to change, so just keep playing your game. Focus on that.’”
After seeing his father play at a high level — in France, in Italy, in Belgium — Rogers never put limits on what he could do on or off the court. He was short but packed 150 muscular pounds on his small frame. He is almost always the quickest on the court, scurrying around the perimeter, creating his own picks and ducking in and out of traffic.
“I’ve never thought I couldn’t make it somewhere,” he says. “I never had that mind-set. I always knew what I was capable of.”
As Shawnta’s pro career wound down, the family settled in North Carolina. That’s where Odom first noticed the sub-5-foot teenager playing summer league ball. There were often future NBA players on the same court.
“He was never afraid of guys who were bigger than him,” says Odom, who was coaching at Charlotte at the time. “You had no idea how much he’d grow, how tall he’d get. But he had that no-fear mentality when he was very young.”
Rogers says that mentality was born on the football field, where he played running back through high school and relished the contact. Even though he stopped growing in ninth grade, he shined more on the basketball court. He attended high school in South Carolina and played on the same club team as Harry Giles, the nation’s top recruit at the time. In fact, he played alongside three future NBA players — Giles (Portland Trail Blazers), Josh Okogie (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Grant Williams (Boston Celtics) — but his pluck and quickness often made him the fan favorite, no matter what his flashy teammates were rated by the national recruiting services.
Rogers initially signed with George Washington in 2015, intent on following in his father’s footsteps. But he decommitted shortly after allegations emerged the next summer that Coach Mike Lonergan had been verbally and emotionally abusive toward players.
Rogers did a year of prep school in South Carolina before signing with Florida Gulf Coast, where he lasted a year, coming off the bench for 20 games as a freshman. Less than two weeks after Michael Fly replaced Joe Dooley as head coach, Rogers decided to transfer, eventually landing at New Mexico Junior College, where he averaged 14 points in the 2018-19 season.
At each stop, he had to show coaches — not to mention teammates and fans — that he wasn’t one-dimensional and that his contributions amounted to more than practice sessions and garbage time.
“I had to do that, too,” Shawnta says. “Look, people see what they see. It doesn’t matter what you do at this place or this school; you have to keep proving yourself everywhere you go. He has to do the same thing.”
Rogers quickly emerged as a fan favorite last year at UMBC and feels he is playing for coaches who aren’t pigeonholing him into a certain role. He doesn’t have to be a defensive specialist or a pass-first point guard.
“I never focused on one thing,” he says. “In today’s game, all the point guards can score and pass. If I was just a defensive player, averaging six steals and only four points, I would not be here.”
After seven games last season, he was leading the Retrievers in scoring and assists when injuries sidelined him — hamstring, hip abductor and groin — and he missed the bulk of the season.
“It was kind of stressful,” he says. “I got through it, though. A lot that stuff comes with playing basketball. Especially at this level, you’re going to get banged up, bruised up. It just comes with the territory, really.”
The Retrievers have moved into America East Conference play, but Rogers says he is still not 100 percent. He is regaining strength in his left leg and still looking for that burst of speed that sets him apart on the court. Opponents still haven’t seen him at his best, he says.
“But they will this year,” he adds. “If I stay healthy the whole year, they will.”
As the season progresses, there will be more video of Rogers, and opponents won’t be surprised by what they see. Rogers knows his size might be the first thing people notice, but he doesn’t want it to be the thing everyone remembers.
“Everybody thinks it’s a big deal to see me do what I do,” he says. “But it’s normal to me. I’ve been doing it for a while.”