April 14, 2011

A Conversation with NBA Star and Wake Forest Alum Rodney Rogers

Flashing his trademark smile, former Wake Forest and NBA basketball star Rodney Rogers ('94) charmed the audience with snippets of his life story, from overcoming a troubled childhood, to highlights of his playing days at Wake Forest, to recounting the 2008 accident that left him paralyzed.

Rogers grew up in a housing project in Durham, N.C., where drugs and shootings were common. His mother was an alcoholic, and, after his father died, he and his two older brothers and older sister were pretty much on their own, he said.

With former Wake Forest basketball coach Dave Odom, former assistant coach Jerry Wainwright and some of his teammates in the audience, Rogers said with a smile, "Coach Odom tricked me into coming to Wake Forest. He told me, you can be part of a great team. You can do it both academically and playing basketball."

He admitted to experiencing culture shock when he moved from an all black neighborhood and school to a predominately white college. "It was kind of scary at first. When I got to class, I’d look around and I’d be the only one (black student)."

Rogers said he became frustrated with some professors who didn't think he was in college for an education. "Some of the professors didn’t think I was here to learn because I was on a basketball scholarship. I told them 'don’t judge me as an athlete, judge me as a student, because that’s what I’m here for.'"

Rogers was the 9th overall pick in the 1993 NBA draft, but quipped that he should been picked higher because he was better than some of the players selected before him. He said he disagrees with players who want to go straight to the NBA from high school.

Rogers talked in a matter-of-fact way about the dirt-bike accident that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down, recalling that his girlfriend, and now wife, Faye, didn't want him to go riding that day. "I hit a ditch and flipped over, and I knew something was wrong. The guys I was with came over and said get up, and I said 'I can't move my arms and legs'. I thought 'Faye's going to kill me.'"

Rogers underwent months of treatment and therapy -- and nearly died several times -- at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. He has around the clock care now, which according to Faye, who was in the audience, costs about $400,000 a year. Rogers said he was fortunate that with savings from his NBA career and insurance, he has been able to afford good care and equipment. He has started the Rodney Rogers Foundation to help others who have been paralyzed. -- Kerry M. King

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