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Getting Off On The Right Foot Fitzgerald Believes Rogers, Sore Foot And All, Key For Gu

A painful stress fracture in his right foot might be just the thing Gonzaga University’s Paul Rogers needs to finally convince his head coach he has the heart to play basketball for more than just tuition, room and board.

The Bulldogs’ 7-foot, 220-pound senior center has shown enough in the way of soft hands, solid rebounding instincts, nimble feet and a feathery shooting touch to make Dan Fitzgerald believe he can play at the next level.

As a junior last season, he averaged 15.2 points and eight rebounds a game for a GU team that finished 21-9 and tied Santa Clara for the regular-season West Coast Conference championship. He showed opposing coaches enough to earn a spot on the all-league team.

But what he hasn’t shown - in Fitzgerald’s mind, at least - is enough competitive drive.

“Paul is still immature competitively,” Fitzgerald said. “The longer I’m in this business, the more convinced I become that competing is a talent. And Paul has never had the luxury of having to learn how to compete. This isn’t a character flaw as much as, I think, an environmental thing.”

Rogers, who transferred to GU from North Idaho College following his freshman year, grew up in Adelaid, Australia. He matured early, physically, and was always bigger and stronger than the kids around him.

But unlike aspiring young basketball players in the United States, Rogers did not have the benefit of AAU teams and unlimited summer instructional camps. His energies were spread among cricket, football and basketball.

“Coach always says that playing hard and being competitive is not a natural thing for me, but I really don’t know where he gets that,” said Rogers, who will be one of two returning starters in the lineup Saturday night when the Bulldogs (1-1) take on Washington State (2-0) in the Arena at 8.

“What he might mean is that I didn’t start playing organized basketball at a reasonably serious level until I was 18 years old. So my whole basketball education growing up was pretty much just playing with my friends.”

Rogers called it “social basketball,” to which the ultra-competitive Fitzgerald replied, “not in my lifetime.”

Actually, the competitive chasm between Rogers and Fitzgerald has narrowed since Rogers first arrived on campus. And it shrinks each time Rogers limps onto the floor and puts out an effort like he did in Tuesday night’s 101-72 romp past St. Martin’s College.

Rogers played only 21 minutes against the Saints and was not impressed with his numbers - nine points and five rebounds.

But Fitzgerald had nothing but praise for the way Rogers played through the pain of the stress fracture.

“I was actually a little bit surprised by the kid,” Fitzgerald admitted. “He is not normally a guy you want guarding the gate. He normally would be the guy guarding the back exit so he could open it for everybody.

“We’re not talking here about a guy who’s going to win the medal of valor. That thing is safe. But he’s learning that at his level you never play not hurt. And, in the end, this (stress fracture) might be good for him.”

Rogers’ foot problem stems from a fractured shaft of his fifth metatarsal that he suffered last season. He underwent surgery over the summer and the fracture has not healed as expected.

“We’re not talking about a hangnail here,” Fitzgerald said. “This is not a case of where you’re going to sit there and wonder if the kid’s making it up. It’s real and I’m worried about it, but we’re doing what we can.”

The team doctor, according to Fitzgerald, has cleared Rogers to play as long as he can stand the pain.

“We’ve just got to manage it,” Fitzgerald said, adding that he might limit Rogers’ practice time much like Stanford did with point guard Brevin Knight when he played through a similar injury two years ago.

Rogers has not been as productive this season as many expected, but his injury is not the only reason.

By his own admission, Rogers misses his former teammate, roommate and best friend, Kyle Dixon. Dixon, a two-year starter at point guard, capped his GU career last year by being named to the All-WCC team.

“Me and Kyle developed a bit of a rapport on the court - a sense or feeling of what each other needed,” Rogers explained. “He knew where I was all the time and when I needed the ball. It was something we developed over two years of playing together every day.”

This year, the point guard duties belong to Matt Santangelo, a redshirt freshman. He is still learning how to play with Rogers, senior shooting guard Lorenzo Rollins and a rosterful of newcomers like himself.

In addition, opponents are more aware of Rogers than they were last year, and many defenses will be geared to stop him.

But the injury remains the biggest factor. And Fitzgerald believes that Rogers can enhance his value in the eyes of NBA scouts if he can play through it.

“I want this kid to play so bad,” he said. “More than anything else just to see him battle through some adversity.

“The pro guys say the rap on him right now is this: He’s 7-feet, he can run, he can catch it and he’s probably good enough to be one of those guys on the bench. But can he compete? Is he competitive enough to stay after it? “Hopefully, he is.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: GONZAGA MEN’S BASKETBALL ROSTER Name Pos. H W Yr. Hometown Carl Crider G 6-1 187 Jr. Oakesdale, Wash. Kevin Williams G 6-1 170 Sr. Foster, City, Calif. Matt Santangelo G 6-0 165 Fr. Portland John Nemeth G 6-0 170 Sr. Twin Falls, Idaho Ryan Floyd G 6-1 179 Fr. Harrington, Wash. Paul Rogers C 7-0 220 Sr. Adelaide, Australia Mike Leasure F 6-6 190 So. Spanaway, Wash. Lorenzo Rollins G 6-4 185 Sr. Tacoma Richie Frahm G 6-5 185 Fr. Vancouver, Wash. Mike Nilson G 6-2 185 Fr. Seattle Axel Dench F 6-11 240 Fr. Melbourne, Australia Brad McKnight F 6-8 197 So. Bellevue, Wash. Bakari Hendrix F 6-8 214 Jr. Vallejo, Calif. Doug Griffin F 6-7 220 Jr. Sacramento, Calif. Jeremy Eaton F/C 6-9 215 Jr. Benton City, Wash. Phillip Ball F 6-9 225 So. Cheney, Wash.

SCHEDULE (All times Pacific) Date Opponent Time Nov. 2 Old Dogs AAU (exhibition) win, 97-82 Nov. 14 Silute, Australia (exhibition) win, 75-55 Nov. 23 at Southern Utah loss, 71-47 Nov. 26 St. Martin’s win, 101-72 Nov. 30 vs. Washington State (Spokane Arena) 8 p.m. Dec. 3 Central Washington 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at Bank One-Foothills Dodge Ram Classic, at Fort Collins, Colo. (vs. Texas-San Antonio) 5 p.m. Dec. 7 at Bank One-Foothills Dodge Ram Classic 5 or 7 p.m. Dec. 11 Montana State 7 p.m. Dec. 14 Montana (FSN) 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21 at Eastern Washington 7 p.m. Dec. 27 at Albertson’s Holiday Classic, Boise, Idaho (vs. Idaho State) 5 p.m. Dec. 28 at Albertson’s Holiday Classic 5 or 7 p.m. Jan. 4 Fullerton State 7:30 p.m. Jan. 9 Santa Clara 7 p.m. Jan. 11 Saint Mary’s (FSN) 5 p.m. Jan. 16 at San Diego 7 p.m. Jan. 18 at San Francisco 7 p.m. Jan. 23 Loyola Marymount 7 p.m. Jan. 25 Pepperdine 5 p.m. Jan. 31 at Pepperdine 7 p.m. Feb. 1 at Loyola Marymount 7 p.m. Feb. 5 Portland (FSN) 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at Portland 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13 San Francisco 7 p.m. Feb. 15 San Diego (FSN) 5:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at Saint Mary’s 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at Santa Clara 7:30 p.m. March 1-3 WCC Tournament Site/time TBA

This sidebar appeared with the story: GONZAGA MEN’S BASKETBALL ROSTER Name Pos. H W Yr. Hometown Carl Crider G 6-1 187 Jr. Oakesdale, Wash. Kevin Williams G 6-1 170 Sr. Foster, City, Calif. Matt Santangelo G 6-0 165 Fr. Portland John Nemeth G 6-0 170 Sr. Twin Falls, Idaho Ryan Floyd G 6-1 179 Fr. Harrington, Wash. Paul Rogers C 7-0 220 Sr. Adelaide, Australia Mike Leasure F 6-6 190 So. Spanaway, Wash. Lorenzo Rollins G 6-4 185 Sr. Tacoma Richie Frahm G 6-5 185 Fr. Vancouver, Wash. Mike Nilson G 6-2 185 Fr. Seattle Axel Dench F 6-11 240 Fr. Melbourne, Australia Brad McKnight F 6-8 197 So. Bellevue, Wash. Bakari Hendrix F 6-8 214 Jr. Vallejo, Calif. Doug Griffin F 6-7 220 Jr. Sacramento, Calif. Jeremy Eaton F/C 6-9 215 Jr. Benton City, Wash. Phillip Ball F 6-9 225 So. Cheney, Wash.

SCHEDULE (All times Pacific) Date Opponent Time Nov. 2 Old Dogs AAU (exhibition) win, 97-82 Nov. 14 Silute, Australia (exhibition) win, 75-55 Nov. 23 at Southern Utah loss, 71-47 Nov. 26 St. Martin’s win, 101-72 Nov. 30 vs. Washington State (Spokane Arena) 8 p.m. Dec. 3 Central Washington 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at Bank One-Foothills Dodge Ram Classic, at Fort Collins, Colo. (vs. Texas-San Antonio) 5 p.m. Dec. 7 at Bank One-Foothills Dodge Ram Classic 5 or 7 p.m. Dec. 11 Montana State 7 p.m. Dec. 14 Montana (FSN) 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21 at Eastern Washington 7 p.m. Dec. 27 at Albertson’s Holiday Classic, Boise, Idaho (vs. Idaho State) 5 p.m. Dec. 28 at Albertson’s Holiday Classic 5 or 7 p.m. Jan. 4 Fullerton State 7:30 p.m. Jan. 9 Santa Clara 7 p.m. Jan. 11 Saint Mary’s (FSN) 5 p.m. Jan. 16 at San Diego 7 p.m. Jan. 18 at San Francisco 7 p.m. Jan. 23 Loyola Marymount 7 p.m. Jan. 25 Pepperdine 5 p.m. Jan. 31 at Pepperdine 7 p.m. Feb. 1 at Loyola Marymount 7 p.m. Feb. 5 Portland (FSN) 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at Portland 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13 San Francisco 7 p.m. Feb. 15 San Diego (FSN) 5:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at Saint Mary’s 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at Santa Clara 7:30 p.m. March 1-3 WCC Tournament Site/time TBA


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