Playing tall for any size; Basketball: Shawnta Rogers' performance for George Washington belies his 5-foot-4 frame and puts the Lake Clifton graduate in line for All-America recognition.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- Fordham guard Bevon Robin meant no disrespect. That's because he had already heard about the reputation of the George Washington players, about how this smallish point guard was somehow dominating the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Still, there's something about first impressions. And the first time Robin faced George Washington and saw Shawnta Rogers -- all 5 feet 4 of him -- walking onto the court for the opening tip-off, his eyes got wide and there were two words that immediately entered his mind.

"Post up," Robin, who probably stands closer to 5-11 than the 6-2 he's listed at. "Right away, I said I was going down low, and I was going to post him up."

Robin's game plan did not succeed. In fact, during the past four years, many have gone into games against Rogers with the same approach.

Most have failed.

"I know everybody wants to post me up," Rogers said. "When people see me -- whether it's here or on the playground -- there's always that 'he's too small attitude.'

"I've heard it all, wherever I've played. I've been called 'Smurf,' I've been called 'Stand-up Rogers.' "

And in a few months, the George Washington senior will probably be called an All-American.

Don't believe it? Just look at the numbers. Of the point guards who have been nominated for the John Wooden Award, Rogers ranks first in assists, first in steals, second in scoring and third in rebounding. That's among a pretty competitive group that includes Utah's Andre Miller, Arizona's Jason Terry, North Carolina's Ed Cota and Connecticut's Khalid El-Amin.

"He's the best basketball player in America," George Washington coach Tom Penders said after Rogers hit a 15-foot jumper with a second left to beat La Salle, 72-70, last week. "Without him, we're like 4-15."

Right now, the Colonials are 14-6 overall, 8-2 in the conference after a disappointing loss at Virginia Tech on Saturday in which Rogers had 29 of his 31 points in the second half. Still, George Washington has a solid hold on second place in the West Division and is likely to make its third NCAA tournament appearance in Rogers' four years.

And he has opened enough eyes to maybe get a shot at the NBA. If Rogers makes it, he would become the second-shortest player in league history behind Muggsy Bogues (Dunbar), the 5-foot-3 point guard from Dunbar who now plays for the Golden State Warriors and has enjoyed a long NBA career.

No clone of Bogues

It's easy to compare the two because of their height, and because Bogues and Rogers are both from Baltimore. But their styles are different.

Bogues earned a reputation in the league as a hard-nosed defender who caused problems because of his size, with the ability to break down defenses and hand off assists.

Rogers is more well-rounded. He can score from the outside (he's among the top five in the Atlantic 10 in three-point field goals made). His exceptional dribbling skills allow him to get into the lane, where he boldly takes the ball inside against taller players, or uses his excellent court vision to set up teammates.

"With little guys, you'd think they'd hang outside and play that suburban type of basketball, where they shoot threes or feed the post," said George Washington forward Yegor Mescheriakov, a graduate student. "The biggest thing that surprised me about him is that he's fearless. He's not afraid to take the ball inside against seven-footers."

Like Bogues, Rogers is surprisingly strong. Watch him walk and he has the stature of a muscleman. His 5-4 frame carries 158 pounds.

"He really knows how to use his size to his advantage," said Robin, the Fordham guard. "You try to go down low, and he battles you. I know with his being 5-4, he has to fight a lot harder. It takes a lot of heart, and I admire him. He's tough."

And Rogers has the ability to change the way the game is played.

"His biggest impact is, when you play George Washington, you can't press," said Fordham coach Nick Macarchuk. "The focal point you have the entire game defensively is on him because if you let him run in the open court, he's sensational.

"Right now, Rogers is the most valuable player in the league," added Macarchuk, after Rogers missed 10 of 13 shots -- yet was the major factor in a recent win over Fordham. "Last year, when he penetrated, he'd always dish. Now he's taking more shots -- and he never makes mistakes."

New direction at GW

Rogers' new style of play can be credited to Penders, who came to George Washington after 10 seasons at Texas. Penders wanted a faster tempo, a push-it-up- the-court-at-every-opportunity approach that had his Texas teams average 87.2 points and 20.8 wins in 10 years there.

Which is why Rogers' scoring average this season, 21.8 points, is nearly eight points higher than his three-year average under former coach Mike Jarvis, who preferred half-court sets.

"In the system we play now, Coach feels for us to have a chance to win I have to score," Rogers said. "I just take the court and play it by ear. If the game's going right where I just distribute the ball, I'll do that."

The contrast in styles was evident during George Washington's game against Fordham on Super Bowl Sunday. In the first half, Rogers, facing a triangle zone, stayed on the perimeter and seemed more eager to pass than shoot, with four assists and five shots in a two-point first half. Fordham trailed by six at halftime.

Just over 10 seconds into the second half, Rogers launched -- and made -- a three-pointer. A more offensive-minded Rogers dictated the tempo. And despite a subpar, 15-point, seven-assist outing, Rogers' second-half play was the difference in George Washington's 76-63 win.

NBA no certainty

"Really, when I play, I don't worry about matching my average or anything else," Rogers said. "Our first-half game plan [against Fordham] was to go inside. Coach got mad at me, and told me: 'When you going to start shooting?' When I started forcing the issue and taking shots, everything just opened up.

"I like the new system. It allows me to open up the floor and do the things I'm capable of. Last year, it was tough for me in a half-court set. Now I can shoot, pass, everything."

The result is one of the most dominant years by a player in Atlantic 10 history. And yet Rogers realizes that, even after his standout career, he still has a lot more convincing to do if he wants to realize his goal of playing in the NBA.

"I've talked to Muggsy because he overcame his height and got to where I want to be," Rogers said. "He told me to just stay in school, play hard and everything would fall into place. That's what I'm trying to do.

"I've always heard about my size, and I'm always going to hear about my size," Rogers added. "But I have a lot of confidence in myself. Where I'm at now in my career, I'm not surprised.

"I just want to keep on doing the things I'm doing now, and, hopefully, I can get a shot at the NBA," Rogers added. "Scouts are going to look at my size, but they'll never know unless they throw me out there. Personally, I really don't think I'm too small for it."

Rogers' rankings

How Shawnta Rogers stacks up against the nation's best players, through Saturday's games. He leads the Atlantic 10 in all three categories listed below, as well as free-throw percentage (.853):

Category Avg. Nat'l. rank

Scoring 21.5 21st

Assists 7.0 9th

Steals 3.8 1st

Pub Date: 2/08/99

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