Western Kentucky celebrating Rogers' 'dream' shot
TAMPA, Fla. -- The town of Eddyville, Ky., is about 220 miles southwest of Lexington, which is home to the University of Kentucky. And, if you believe most of its residents, Lexington is also the center of the college basketball world.
If that's truly the case, then Eddyville might as well be on another planet.
Because the small town of about 2,500 residents is home to perhaps the only Kentucky high school basketball star who never dreamed of playing for the Wildcats. Instead, Ty Rogers grew up cheering for Western Kentucky and always wanted nothing more than to play basketball for the Hilltoppers.
"Kentucky is a great school and they have a great team," Rogers said. "But I'm where I'm supposed to be."
Rogers couldn't be anywhere better after Friday's 101-99 upset of No. 5 seed Drake in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
With the No. 12 seed Hilltoppers trailing 99-98 with 5.7 seconds to go in overtime, guard Tyrone Brazelton frantically dribbled up the court. As two Drake defenders collapsed on him, Brazelton kicked a pass to Rogers, who let a deep 3-pointer fly with 1.2 seconds left to play. The senior guard nailed the 3-pointer at the buzzer, leaving a stunned crowd at St. Pete Times Forum gasping for breath.
"It's a kid's dream," Rogers said. "I think it's every ball player's dream."
But it was always Rogers' dream to make the game-winning shot for the Hilltoppers.
"He wasn't one of those Kentucky kids who grew up dreaming of playing at Kentucky," said Jeff Rogers, Ty's father who was sitting in the stands about 10 rows up from the spot where his son hit the winning shot. "And that's being a little bit different when you're from Kentucky. There was a time when I was a Kentucky fan, but I'm not anymore. I'm a Hilltopper fan through and through and will be for the rest of my life."
Now, Ty Rogers will spend the rest of his life as a part of Western Kentucky lore.
"No question about it," Jeff Rogers said. "That's something every little kid dreams they'll do. They grow up wanting to play Division I basketball, and they dream about making a shot to win a game in the NCAA tournament. That's just every kid's dream. It doesn't get any better than that."
Rogers seemed born to make the shot for the Hilltoppers. He began playing basketball at the age of 3. His mother, Ruth, said her son even learned to count by 3s. When Rogers was 9, he won a national foul-shooting competition. He went 30-for-30 in the Elks Club National Free Throw Contest in Indianapolis, winning his age group in a field of more than 3 million participants.
Rogers graduated with 64 other students at tiny Lyon County High School, where he was valedictorian with a perfect 4.0 GPA and became one of the state's most prolific shooters. Rogers played on the school's varsity team as a seventh-grader. By the time Rogers graduated in 2004, he set a state high school record with 407 3-pointers (a career mark that still stands) and was seventh in Kentucky history with 3,300 points.
At tiny Lyon County High, Rogers didn't get as much attention as some of the state's other top players. Rogers played on an AAU team with Tennessee sharp shooter Chris Lofton, and he scored 19 points in the Indiana-Kentucky all-star game after his senior season.
Still, Rogers wasn't considered tall enough (he's 6-foot-3), fast enough or good enough to play for the state's two traditional powers, Kentucky and Louisville. It didn't matter. Western Kentucky was the only destination he ever considered.
"I thought he might go to Murray State," Jeff Rogers said. "That's where I went to school. That's where his mother went. That's where his grandparents went. But he just connected with something at Western Kentucky."
Rogers has been a steady yet unspectacular player for the Hilltoppers. He has never averaged more than 8.9 points in four seasons at the school. He was always a great spot-up shooter, though, and was capable of occasionally busting up an opponent's zone defense. Rogers made nearly 200 3-pointers in his career, none bigger than his last one against Drake.
After helping Western Kentucky win its first NCAA tournament game since 1995 -- when current coach Darrin Horn scored 13 points in an 82-76 victory over Michigan -- Rogers was asked what was happening back in his hometown.
"I can't even imagine," Rogers said.
"All seven people are out," Horn joked.
Until now, Eddyville was best known as being home to the Kentucky State Penitentiary, where the state's only electric chair was once used. The massive stone prison, which sits on the shore of Lake Barkley, is known as the "Castle on the Cumberland."
And now Eddyville has a king.
"It's a dream come true," Rogers said.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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