Rogers, Jackets ready to defend championship

Fort Mill's Chalmers Rogers is introduced prior to last year's state championship game against Summerville.
Fort Mill's Chalmers Rogers is introduced prior to last year's state championship game against Summerville.

FORT MILL -- It was a normal Fort Mill boys basketball practice Saturday morning.

Sweat was pouring off every varsity and junior varsity player. Coach Bailey Jackson was overseeing the workout and wasn't pleased. He'll probably quit if he's ever satisfied.

The varsity in white jerseys and the JVs in blue were getting after it five-on-five full court with the scoreboard clock running. The only things that stopped it from resembling an actual game were no referees, no score kept and Jackson starting every play by bouncing the ball off the backboard.

When he had seen enough, Jackson sent the starters off the court after yelling: "If you varsity guys don't get the rebound, hit the floor and give me 25 (push-ups). And if some of you don't start improving, I might send you down and keep some of these JV players.''

Won't happen. Jackson was trying to get his players' attention and, yes, there were plenty of push-ups by the starters. When the five on the court flubbed, everyone in white had to hit the floor.

It wasn't a popular punishment, one that didn't seem to settle well with the players. But one, the only starter back off last year's 25-4 Class AAAA state championship team, never hesitated to throw himself down.

Jackson wasn't surprised. He said Chalmers Rogers, the Yellow Jackets' 6-foot-7 senior center, never complains -- well almost never.

"The only time in four years I've had him I've only seen it once,'' Jackson said. "It was during a game and the refs weren't calling any fouls in the post. Finally Chalmers had enough, and he let the referees know it.''

Rogers is a player, an aggressive big man who knows how to use his body. He's always been tall, was 6-4 by the eighth grade, and learned a hook shot he rarely misses at a young age.

He's thrown down quite a few "thunder'' dunks in his time. Rogers can also handle the ball and is a better-than-average shooter from 3-point range. His combination of scoring and his ability to get into position to pull down rebounds using his size and strength, has made him one of the top big men in the state.

Rogers was recently selected as one of the top five preseason boys players by the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association. And like other honors that have come his way, Rogers shrugs it off and says it's all about team.

"The perfect game for me is winning,'' he said. "I've started on the varsity since my freshman year and play baseball, too, but basketball is my ticket to college.

"Playing as a freshman taught me a lot. It gave me the experience that is helping me out now. People see how tall I am and ask me if I play basketball. I tell them I do. It doesn't bother me at all.''

Rogers has two colleges hot on his tail -- Western Carolina and Fordham. Once the word gets out, his stock is likely to rise.

Don't look at his stats and form quick opinions. Rogers averaged just 11.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season. There are two reasons. Jackson plays a deliberate style that calls for his team to keep passing until a good shot opens. Last year's seniors were all good shooters and the Yellow Jackets averaged in the mid 50s points-wise.

And there was the injury. On the second day of tryouts last year, also the second day of practice, Rogers dunked and was undercut. He broke his left forearm and has two 6-inch scars as a reminder of his surgery.

Rogers was forced to sit out until after Christmas and the Yellow Jackets, Class AAAA's No. 1 team in the preseason, lost three games. Fort Mill went 16-1 when he returned, losing to South Pointe on the final night of the regular season.

"It was very tough on me sitting and watching,'' Rogers said. "When I got back, I knew I had to turn it up.''

And he did, especially in the Yellow Jackets' five playoffs games on their march to the state title. Rogers pushed his scoring average near 14 points per game and played even better on defense. He held Easley's all-state post player, Mike Jenkins, to three points in the Upper State championship game. He held Summerville all-stater A.J. Green to 11 in the championship.

"Chalmers is one of the best post player's I've ever coached,'' Jackson said. "He's physical, he's a great kid and he makes good grades. He been with us four years and has played on some good teams.

"It was obvious last year after we got him back how much he means to this team. We're 3-0 at this point after playing in a preseason tournament at Spartanburg Christian. Chalmers, who will be our leader this season, was voted the MVP.''

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