Rodgers came to Arizona with as much promise and upside as anyone. He was a five-star recruit. He had all the tools. Watching him in high school it looked like he could be the second coming of Khalid Reeves.
In the end Rodgers was a talented player with his share of problems. He had a really rough upbringing and had a number of trust issues to say the least. Sadly, those led to him looking out for number one and not being the most coachable player.
His me-first attitude and lone wolf outlook made him an outsider from the start. He and Salim Stoudamire were similar in many regards, but late in his career Stoudamire was much better in his interactions with the team. That does not appear to be the case with Rodgers.
The sad thing about all of this is that Rodgers is a good kid. During the recruiting process he was one of the most cordial players I have ever dealt with. He was polite and well spoken.
I will always remember interacting with him at the 2001 Nike Camp in Indianapolis. I had met him once before and spoken to him a few times on the phone. I reintroduced myself at an interview session and he claimed to remember me. A few times during the week, he’d spot me and come over and shake my hand or say “hello”.
Once he got to Arizona the problems began.
Things were rocky from the start when Rodgers was originally ruled academically ineligible but
was admitted when he was diagnosed with a learning disability.
Things remained tough that first year. Rodgers had trouble adjusting to the disciplined, tough practices that Lute Olson and his staff ran. He was used to getting the star treatment and the demands put on Wildcat basketball players were a tough adjustment.
To make matters worse, he received far less playing time than fellow freshmen Hassan Adams and Andre Iguodala. Rodgers was actually the highest rated recruit of the three, but he was seeing the least amount of playing time.
That off-season the first rumors of his looking to transfer surfaced. They would not be the last. After his sophomore year the rumors continued to fly. After his junior year they returned, but were tempered by the fact that he made himself eligible for the NBA draft.
He pulled his name out, returned to Arizona but as we now know he would never get a chance to finish his senior season.
The problem was never ability. The problem was never intelligence. Rodgers has a college degree that he earned in three and a half years.
The problem was adapting. The problem was trust.
Rodgers never fully bought into the system. He never fully trusted Olson and the staff to steer him the right way. He felt that he knew best because he really thought was the only one who was looking out for Chris Rodgers.
This attitude is why Rodgers was prone to over dribbling and rushing shots. He could never be convinced that what worked in high school would not work in college. Rodgers was so good off the dribble against lesser competition, but never fully realized that same offensive game plan did not work against superior athletes at the D-I level.
He also fully failed to grasp the Arizona offense or at least believe what it could do for him. He never seemed convinced that if he gave up the ball he would get it back and probably in a better position to score. He never bought into the fact that the shots he was jacking up with 30 seconds left on the shot clock would be there 20 seconds later and he might actually be able to work for a better look.
He did not realize that player after player made it to the NBA buying into the Olson system. He failed to grasp that NBA GM’s looked less at stats and more at skills. There is no doubt that Olson was developing the skills. Not only were Wildcats being drafted, but they were sticking in the NBA.
Rodgers was prone to curious statements to the media. He would question his role and playing time publicly. When he was disciplined by Lute Olson, specifically last year against Washington State and this season against Houston, he claimed the reasoning for the sanctions were never explained to him. He was all too often a distraction for a program that likes to limit distractions.
What ultimately doomed Rodgers were his interactions with the other players. Publicly the coaching staff is not commenting on the reasons why Rodgers was dismissed, but Olson did note recently on a television interview that there were “chemistry problems”. He was also slated to meet individually with the players this week to discuss the direction of the team.
Rodgers had problems dealing with teammates. He was an outsider and had the occasional run-in with his teammates. Unfortunately a few of these occurred in public pick-up sessions.
Any specific cause for his dismissal has not been made public and probably won’t be. Whether there was a specific incident that broke the camel’s back or just a culmination of small issues, has not been disclosed.
Sadly, it seems that this has been the inevitable conclusion to a rocky career. For many it was not a matter if he’d leave the team but when.
More than likely we will look back at Chris Rodgers and think of a talented player who just couldn’t make it work. It will be a career unfulfilled, at least this portion of it. Hopefully Rodgers can regroup and pursue a professional career. With this end to his college career he’ll most likely have to work that much harder, but someone, somewhere should give him a shot. If not, he has a college degree to fall back on.