Chris Rodgers’ teammates know he has to score often for them to win
Chris Rodgers never saw a shot he couldn't make, and that is the best and worst thing about the Wilson High boys basketball team.
Rodgers, a 6-foot-4 senior point guard, is a dynamic player who already has signed to play for the University of Arizona, which launched Trail Blazers Damon Stoudamire and Steve Kerr into the NBA.
But being able to get himself open for a field-goal attempt on every possession isn't always the way to win games, and Rodgers knows this.
'I'm a confident player, and I know I can get a shot off anytime I want,' says Rodgers, who grew up in North Portland and lives near the Rose Garden. 'And sometimes that's bad for my team because I shoot first and deal with it later.
'In a lot of ways, I'm still learning what I need to do to help my team win in a given game Ñ shoot more or pass more.'
For the Trojans, this is a game-by-game struggle. Many of Rodgers' teammates, especially the experienced ones, are so used to him leading and them following that it's hard for them to consistently play up to his level. That puts even more pressure on Rodgers.
'It's difficult to play hard all the time when you don't have the ball and you know you're not going to get the ball because one player is always going to shoot,' senior Jelani Memory says. 'We aren't like that all the time, but it does happen É often.'
In a non-conference game with Roseburg during the Les Schwab Invitational, Rodgers took 35 shots and scored 46 points. The Trojans won 70-59.
Of course, the Trojans know Rodgers is their key to victory. The rest of the state knows this, too. Against Roseburg, he made 17 of 35 from the field and also led his team in rebounding with eight and steals with seven. He is averaging 24.6 points per game.
'Everyone knows Chris is our top player; he's the scorer on our team,' says junior post Kyle Ratoza. 'And we need him to score.'
But after the tournament, Wilson was a team that had lost momentum from five season-opening victories. Wilson is 6-3 overall and 3-0 in the Portland Interscholastic League heading into a league game Wednesday against visiting Marshall.
Rodgers will again be on the spot to lead the Trojans with his scoring and decision-making, especially when it plays host to Madison on Friday.
'We are asking Chris to do a lot of things on our team,' Trojan coach Scott Aker says. 'There's a lot of weight on his shoulders, and sometimes there are going to be problems. It's hard to be a scorer and a passer at the same time, and we know that.'
Same record, different teams
Wilson is tied with No. 2-ranked Jefferson for first place in the PIL, but the Trojans and Democrats are very different.
Jefferson also has a future Pacific-10 Conference player in Oregon-bound Brandon Lincoln, but the Demos have a team full of shooters, none of whom thinks twice about lofting an open shot from inside 21 feet.
The Demos' style of play almost beat defending national champion Oak Hill (Va.) in the Les Schwab Invitational. In a Saturday loss at Garfield of Seattle, four Jefferson players scored in double figures.
Wilson has only had two scorers in double figures in any of its games. None of Rodgers' teammates took more than six shots in a game during the Schwab tournament, partly because Memory, an outside threat and three-year varsity player, injured an ankle and didn't play in two of the games. Rodgers has led the Trojans in scoring in all nine games.
Being the go-to guy on every play is a challenge because the point-guard position is usually that of a passer.
'I'm looking for my teammates,' Rodgers says. 'But there aren't always guys working to get open, and that makes my job difficult because if there's not someone getting open, then I'm probably going to shoot.'
Can a team with one player accounting for 43 percent of its scoring win a state title? Wilson is likely to find out this season because the Trojans, who won three state titles between 1985 and 1991, have high expectations and the ability to play up to them. They beat Beaverton, now ranked No. 10, by 15 and PIL contender Lincoln by 20.
'And we didn't just beat Beaverton, we destroyed them,' Memory says. 'That's the frustrating thing about us. We can be really good, or we can be really bad.'
Wilson's three losses, including to No. 1 Churchill and No. 4 Westview, were by an average of 17 points. Only one of their nine games has been decided by fewer than eight.
The team's first-year varsity players, who make up two-thirds of the team, see Rodgers as their savior and the key to their winning.
'If you can't be stopped, why shouldn't you have the ball?' Ratoza says. 'Chris is a good player and a good shooter. I don't have a problem with how often he shoots.
'If our team took 100 shots in a game and Chris took every one of them, that would be okay by me. My job would still be the same Ñ to go get the ball when he misses.'
Aker says juggling all of the different plot lines on his team (shooting vs. passing, moving vs. standing, experienced players vs. younger players, Rodgers vs. coaches) is his major challenge. And he doesn't lose sleep over it, even when Rodgers seems to have a mind of his own on the court.
'When you get down to it, these are kids on a team and I'm not going to hold a grudge against them for things they do,' he says. 'Besides, all the problems we have and struggle with are cured by one thing Ñ winning.'
The Land of Lute
When Arizona coach Lute Olson offered a scholarship, Rodgers didn't have to think twice about accepting. And he did it before taking his official visit to the campus in Tucson.
'It was a no-brainer for me,' Rodgers says. 'Anyone who wants to be the best in basketball has to think about Arizona. They have a great record of winning and getting players to the NBA.'
Rodgers, who met several of his future teammates at a Nike camp in Indianapolis in July, thinks about the NBA as a wonderful reward for hard work Ñ several years in the future.
'It's still a dream,' he says. 'It's going to take a lot of work and dedication for me to get there. What I'm more focused on is showing my potential in college and expressing my love for the game.'
He says he will major in business, focusing on the sports world.
In his final three months of high school play, Rodgers would love nothing more than to lead his team to a state title, even if other players score the majority of the points. He already has his scholarship wrapped up, so racking up stats isn't a necessity.
Memory, one of the school's top soccer players, says the Trojans are much more than a one-player team.
'I think we're a deep team, but we don't show it that much,' he says. 'The real key for us is having fun. If we have fun, we're a good team no matter who scores.'
Rodgers thinks the team's experience in the tournament, even the three lopsided losses, will help its progress.
'I think it opened our eyes to what we have to do to play at a playoff level,' Rodgers says. 'We can beat the teams we lost to Ñ we just have to get back to playing like we did at the beginning of the season, moving away from the ball and playing good defense.
'And if I have to pass more, I think I can do that. I know I can always shoot.'