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Rogers to redshirt
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 11/27/2001

SPRINGFIELD - In the end, Jackie Rogers' improved chance of graduating and increased potential for helping the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team next year led to the decision to redshirt him for the 2001-02 season.

The decision, which was agreed on by Rogers and the coaching staff, means he can practice with the team this year, but will not play in games.

Rogers, who played at West Virginia as a freshman and at Barton County Community College as a sophomore, averaged 6.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game as a junior at UMass last year.

Because of transferring credits from two other schools, Rogers is not on track to graduate in May.

"He wants to do it," UMass coach Steve Lappas said. "It will help him academically. He's going to need another semester (after this year) to graduate. So we thought it fit all the way around.

"That's a big thing for us," Lappas continued. "We want to see all the kids get their degrees. That's not to say he wouldn't have come back for the extra semester, but certainly there is a better chance of that happening if he's playing."

Keeping Rogers will give the Minutemen two experienced big men (with Micah Brand) to play alongside three newcomers - Gabriel Lee, Stephen Briggs and Alassane Kouyate, who all will join the program next year.

"The best thing I feel about it is for my education, which is important because I'm going to need another year to graduate on time," Rogers said. "By having me back it'll help instead of having a freshman starting. It'll help the team to have somebody coming back to help Micah out."

Coincidentally, the last UMass player to redshirt was senior Ronell Blizzard, who has moved up on the depth chart with Rogers sitting out.

Blizzard has averaged two points, four rebounds and 10 minutes in the first two games. He's missed a few short-range shots, which has concerned Lappas.

"He's been the fourth inside guy to play and he needs to play better," Lappas said. "He's done some good things on the glass, but he needs to finish some things. I'm not asking him to do something he can't do. I think he'll help us if he plays better."

Blizzard is excited about the opportunity.

"He's upset that I'm not more aggressive offensively," Blizzard said. "He's putting me in situations where I can do some things offensively and I have to take advantage of it."

For the past three years, Blizzard has gone back and forth between playing small forward and power forward. He's glad to have a more defined role.

"I think the worst thing that ever happened to me in my career was that in the first game I played I did a lot of different things and people expected a lot of different things," he said. "I wish I'd had one thing to focus on. I thought I was doing the job offensively but coach (Bruiser) Flint wasn't happy with the job I was doing defensively.

"I think I have a lot that I can bring to our team so I have to be more active," Blizzard continued. "I'm happy with the situation. All I asked for was an opportunity to help our team."

He admitted he was slightly more comfortable as a perimeter player, but in Lappas' motion offense he can still employ some of those skills as an inside guy.

"I feel more comfortable facing the basket," Blizzard said. "But that's the great thing. Our motion offense takes advantage of any and every skill that a player could have. If you're a big guy that can step out, set screens and make open shots, this allows you to do that."

UMass makes right choice
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 11/27/2001

The University of Massachusetts men's basketball team's decision to redshirt senior Jackie Rogers is bound to start a season-long debate and much second-guessing.

The first time UMass has a big man in early foul trouble, every wise guy in the stands and in front of the TV is going to say, "See? We shouldn't have redshirted Rogers."

Any close loss where Micah Brand, Kitwana Rhymer or Eric Williams struggles, people will wonder if Rogers would have made the difference.

They might be right, but it doesn't matter. UMass is doing the right thing for a reason that has nothing to do with basketball.

As things currently stand, Rogers is not on track to graduate in May. He began his college career at West Virginia and spent his sophomore year in junior college. Getting enough credits to transfer from one school is difficult. Doing it from two is almost impossible.

So for Rogers to leave UMass with a degree, he'd have to stay for another year. But while Rogers might not be an NBA prospect, he certainly has more than enough ability to play overseas and create a nest egg to start his adult life with. Players with much less ability than Rogers have made a lot of money playing basketball in Europe.

But he'd have to play as soon as his college career was over. A year of no basketball while he finished his degree would be career suicide, as scouts have short memories and little interest in staking their reputation on a player with a year's worth of rust.

From Rogers' standpoint, redshirting gives him the best of both worlds and it makes a positive statement that the university isn't just using basketball players as hired guns with no concern for their academics.

Still, there are solid basketball benefits from the move as well. The absence of Rogers from this year's lineup doesn't empty UMass' big-man cupboard. Rhymer, Brand and Williams give the Minutemen more size than most teams in the country have already.

Despite missing a few shots from in close, Ronell Blizzard, who is now the team's fourth big man, looked good against Arkansas-Little Rock last week. His athleticism and shooting ability could make him an asset in the team's new offense, further cushioning the loss of Rogers.

Having Rogers around in the 2002-03 season will greatly help the Minutemen. Brand would have been the team's only experienced big man, with Gabriel Lee, Stephen Briggs and Alassane Kouyate all experiencing growing pains. But Rogers' return will add stability and give that squad more proven scoring ability.

In Lappas' offense, despite only being 6-foot-8, Rogers plays more like a center, as he's most effective shooting his hooks from short distances. Because of that, it would have been hard for him and Rhymer, who is also a center to play together.

Assuming Rhymer is going to play a lot of minutes, Rogers would be a luxury coming off the bench this year, but not a necessity. Next year, Rogers will be position to be get playing time and more importantly, his degree.

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