Darnell Rogers is a young man you’d more likely expect to see making a run for the roses as a jockey in the Kentucky Derby than one who will be trying to help Florida Gulf Coast University’s men’s basketball team make a run in the National Invitation Tournament.
After all, you don’t see many 5-foot-2 players in Division I basketball. In fact, you don’t see ANY other players that stature, with Mount St. Mary senior Junior Robinson the closest we could find at a comparatively towering 5 feet, 5 inches.
Comparisons to the Little Engine That Could, the Energizer Bunny or cartoon legend Speedy Gonzalez aside, it takes something large to compete with the big boys at the highest levels of a sport traditionally dominated by size — namely a lot of heart. And the freshman from Baltimore, Md., who played high school and a year of prep-school ball in South Carolina and Georgia has a huge heart.
We’re not talking about the kind of competitive heart that inspired Rogers to multiple player-of-the-year honors in a record-setting prep career. We’re talking about a compassionate heart that he already has had a chance to display — even though he has only been at FGCU less than a year — by helping with disaster relief after Hurricane Irma struck Southwest Florida in September.
“It was really a nice feeling to be able to help people by handing out food and supplies,” said Rogers, who joined fellow FGCU student-athletes to help in the Southwest Florida recovery efforts. “A lot of people were hurting, and it felt good to help them get through a bad time.”
Rogers plans to major in communication at FGCU because he thinks “that’s where his talents are best suited.” He enjoys being able to take courses online. “It helps me concentrate more, and I think it makes it easier for me to stay on top of and get ahead in my coursework.”
As for role models in the uncharted territory of playing NCAA D-1 basketball as the shortest player in the land, Rogers, whose full name is Shawnta Darnell Rogers Jr., needs look no further than his own dinner table. His father, Shawnta Rogers, was Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year in 1999 playing for George Washington.
“He works me pretty hard,” the younger Rogers said of offseason practice sessions. And while Darnell has a father and mentor to look up to, he doesn’t have to look up all that far. His dad, Shawnta Rogers Sr., stands all of 5 feet, 4 inches himself.
What makes FGCU basketball so great?
Sure, it’s the players, but it’s more than that. It’s the coaches and the cheerleaders. It’s Azul and his hip moves. It’s the pep band and the Dancing E’Gals and, of course, the shouting, stamping, screaming, leaping Dirty Birds who ramp up the energy in the Nest. This is part of a series of profiles of some of those who put their hearts and souls into making Eagles basketball the force it has become.