INDIAN LAND — Before he turned 12, Shawnta “Darnell” Rogers, Jr. admired the Eiffel Tower in Paris and ate pizza topped with fries near the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.
Still, after spending eight years living in Europe with his parents during his elementary school years, Rogers said his favorite sight was watching his father, Shawnta Sr., shoot hoops with some of the best international talent the Euroleague had to offer.
“It was great, like living the lifestyle of a pro athlete,” the younger Rogers said. “Wherever (my dad) went, (my mother, Sherrell and I) went. Everyone treated us like we were famous.”
After a standout career at George Washington University, the elder Rogers point guard enjoyed an 11-year professional career with 10 different clubs in four countries.
Almost half a decade later, his son also plays point guard. As of Jan. 15, sophomore Rogers leads Indian Land High School (8-2) with a scoring average of more than 27 points per game. Since middle school he’s been playing with the varsity squad under seventh-year head coach Nate Smith.
“I call him the general, because he’s like another coach on the floor,” Smith said. “A real playmaker, he actually studies the other guards and looks at people to study his matchups. That’s dedication.”
Rogers is also trying to emulate his older brother. Terrell Rogers led Indian Land to the 2011 state semifinals before pursuing an opportunity with the University of Delaware Blue Hens last year.
“I’ve been prepared for this since I was eight years old,” Darnell said at a practice last week. “When I came back from France to try out for coach Smith, it gave me an opportunity. They wanted to see what I could do and I came through for them.”
Indian Land finished 23-3 (10-0 in Region 4-AA) in 2012-13 before falling to Keenan in the third round of the Class AA state playoffs. Four starters left; only Rogers remains on the 2013-14 squad.
“It’s a work in progress because the team changed big time from last year,” said Rogers Sr., who occasionally comes by practice to work with the Warriors. “I’ll never put any doubt on the kids. I’m hard on them, but if they put their minds together, it can happen. You can play the top team and that night might be their time to mess up.”
Rogers said he mirrors his father’s style of play in many ways, especially how he manages the game and his intensity on the floor. After leading the NCAA in steals in 1999 at George Washington, Rogers Sr. won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award, given to the best collegiate player under 6-feet tall.
The youngest Rogers hooper has a similarly central role to his team’s success. As Indian Land enters the bulk of its region schedule next week (including tough road trips to Central and Andrew Jackson), the Warriors and Smith will rely on their point guard’s quick decision-making as the matchups become even more heated.
“This is the fourth chapter of our season,” Smith said. “We’ve had the preseason, the nonconference, the Christmas tournament and now this. With Darnell’s skills, his ability, he’ll beat the best guy (an opponent) has got. Everybody in this gym knows where the last shot on the line’s going to.”
Well, everybody in Indian Land’s gym, anyway.
When the Warriors are on the road, Rogers, listed officially at 5-foot-5, tends to receive ridicule more often than respect. He hasn’t needed to shut the home crowd out; he’s much more happy to shut them up.
“A lot of times, when we play away, they’ll talk stuff, for sure,” he said. “They’ll all be like, ‘you’re the small guy,’ but when I’m on the court, they’ll start giving me some ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs.’ I start having a lot of fans from other crowds, and that’s pretty great.”
Sophomore center Quantra Taylor’s job on Smith’s team is to take the heat off Rogers’ back. Taylor, already 6-foot-8, is part of a towering Warriors front line that includes 6-foot-7 senior Lee McCall and 6-foot-6 juniors Brandon Sellers and Brandon Barnes. Taylor only started getting varsity minutes in his freshman year; now he’s been tasked with helping lead a youthful Warrior team back to a chance of winning their first state title.
“That makes the game a lot more threatening,” Taylor said, “as me being a big, that opens stuff up for Darnell to score or get me on the point. It’s about getting the whole team touches.”
In each of Indian Land’s eight wins this season, the Warriors have averaged 72 points per game – marginally below their scoring average during last year’s successful regular season run. Regardless of this season’s outcome, Rogers has stepped up in the absence of four departed starters.
“The goal is to put up a banner (this year),” he said. “We feel really confident about our chances. It makes me want to work hard.”
Watching that banner rise up into the rafters of the Warriors’ gym would taste better than any pizza in the world.