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Scoring at Life with an Assist from Basketball

Mike holding basketball and preparing for free throw shot Basketball going through net of hoop over street court Mike meets with Coach Eason to go over strategy during basketball game Mike going for a layup during a basketball game Two basketball players on a court - subject of story (Mike) dribbling

Hardwood floors, freshly waxed, squeak under pivoting sneakers, absorbing the rhythmic shock of the ball bouncing its way down the court. The backboard takes a hit as the leather ball finds its home into the net; the glowing scoreboard comes to life and points are re-tallied. A scent of salt and sweat permeates the hall. Finally, a buzzer’s low blast signals a stop in play. The crowd erupts into cheers, their enthusiasm reverberating around the solid brick walls of the gymnasium.

Invented by a Springfield College instructor back in 1891, basketball has steadily risen in popularity in the United States.  As an exciting and enjoyable sport, basketball has many fans. For some, the thrill of watching the game can even be addicting. To those who play the sport; however, basketball has the ability to be life changing.

Streetwise

As a middle school kid out in Harlem, New York, Michael (Mike) Rogers was on a trajectory that would keep him right where he was. If he followed the footsteps of his older siblings, he would be headed down a tough path, and at best, scratching out a hard-fought life using his wits, muscle, and a bit of luck on the city streets. His story starts not unlike so many other kids whose dreams never made it past the city’s crossroads. However, with help from the positive mentors in his life and basketball, Mike’s journey took a decided pivot onto a more optimistic path. As a fifth grader, the high school basketball coach took a keen interest in Mike.

“Coach Michael Crump was determined to get me off the streets. I would practice with the middle schoolers and every day Coach Crump would bring me over to watch the high schoolers practice and show how they interacted with each other. He would explain to me that I don’t need to be on the outside streets. I could become as good as the older kids on the high school team or even better.” – Mike Rogers

A protective big brother, Mike wanted to feel secure that there was enough money each week for his mom to care for his younger sister. Born to a single mother who did her best to make ends meet, Mike made the hard decision to leave his home and head out to California to live with his uncle who was starting a preparatory school. As a high school freshman, the idea of leaving his mom, sister, and friends in Harlem was difficult but Mike knew that if he did not take this hail Mary shot, his resolve to live a different kind of life could weaken amidst high school peer pressure.

On the Move

It was a long shot but it seemed like the most critical time to make the call. Mike’s uncle was running a preparatory school in California and luckily enough was also a club basketball coach for an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team. Living out in California, Mike was able to fly around the country, playing for the team and building his ball-handling skills. What started out as a great adventure however, ended when the prep school was closed down causing them both to move to Arizona. Rebounding back, Mike first attended Cesar Chavez High School in Laveen AZ for the beginning of his high school career, but by junior year he was sadly setback with a heart problem. Once the problem seemed to resolve, Mike was blessed to receive a scholarship to Hillcrest Prep Basketball Academy in Gilbert and was able to continue his basketball career. He experienced an amazing year athletically but then another health setback almost derailed it completely. Mike caught both pneumonia and bronchitis at the same time and the resulting heart murmur sidelined his hopes for a basketball future.

“It threw me off and I went downhill from there. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t eat. I could barely even breathe by myself. I attended cardiovascular therapy but in the end it was easy for me to push through because I knew what I wanted in life.” – Mike Rogers

Mike spent a year and a half working through the after-effects of his illness, getting back into shape, and working with a cardiologist.

Teammates

“All of a sudden, I had to figure everything out on my own. I had a close friend, Donald Carter, who helped me figure out where I was going in life. Donald played basketball for Scottsdale Community College at the time. His mom helped me if I ever needed food or a place to stay. I’m still best friends with him to this day.” – Mike Rogers

Donald’s family helped Mike understand what loyalty really meant. He lived with Donald for a while but was able to find a more permanent situation with the help of his former AAU basketball Coach Paul, and another close friend. Coach Paul helped Mike understand what real life was and made sure he understood what it would take to survive alone in the world.

Donald was also close friends with Lamar “Tre” Mitchell, who was playing point guard for Phoenix College. Mike also knew Tre from his AAU days and the three became good friends.

“Tre used to discuss basketball but he wouldn’t talk about it like everyone else would. It was more in the sense of how, through learning basketball, he is becoming more of a man – his character is changing for the better. He is learning certain things don’t matter in life, and centering in on his priorities. I grew up in a situation where I had to figure everything out so just talking to him was inspirational. I would see how Tre carried himself and, as a kid, I’m used to seeing people putting on an act, holding themselves above others, but Tre didn’t act like that. Basketball felt like the path for him to learn character development and become a man. If I can go to school and be myself instead of acting like I’m higher than others, I’d love to! – Mike Rogers

Witnessing the effect that Phoenix College (PC) basketball had on his friend Tre, Mike decided to enroll and try out for the team. He received a basketball scholarship which helped him afford his college classes and he is currently in his second season as a point guard for the Phoenix College Men’s Basketball team.

“I’m just happy to be here at PC. I’ve learned that life is bigger than just dribbling a ball. I can get an education. I can have friends. I can get a mentor. There is so much here.” – Mike Rogers

PC Basketball

As a top returner, Mike will bring a veteran presence to the 2022-2023 season and Basketball Coach Duane Eason expects him to set an example for the new freshman members. Mike, along with returning player Jamar Brown, is expected to be all-conference and all-region performers for the Bears this season.

“Coach Eason is from New Jersey so he is from the same area I’m from. When I first got the chance to talk to him I just felt that connection and could tell by his words, he had a lot of young men’s best interest at heart. He isn’t looking for anything in return at all. He just wants you to be successful. He is a very good coach that holds his players accountable and I knew that’s what I needed most. It helped me become who I am now. Our basketball program has many standards and they aren’t an optional choice to follow. It’s an expectation. If you want to succeed in life you can’t be mediocre at anything. You have to give it your all. He emphasizes that every single day whether it’s basketball, weights, or study hall. He’s an amazing person.” As Coach Eason would say “Real Recognize real”– Mike Rogers 

Heading into the Future

Planning to graduate from Phoenix College with an Associate’s in Arts degree, Mike is looking forward to continuing his education at a four-year university and playing basketball at a higher level. He hopes to study criminal justice and learn more about court procedure.

“When I was younger I dealt with my sister and brother being incarcerated. When they went to court the lawyers that they had just never really put in the effort to try to free them. I always felt like I wanted to be that chance for someone. Not everyone has a good life. Not everyone lives the perfect life but if you do mess up and you are willing to change there should be somebody there that is willing to help you. Someone should fight for you. I want to be that person for someone.

Later down the line after my playing career is over I want to help kids like me. Kids growing up now are going to lead the world. We should never send out a bad message to a child – you’ve got to be a street kid or you’ve got to be a gangsta. I want to show them that it’s cooler to set your mom up in a home of her own. It’s cooler to pay your bills. Be an athlete.” – Mike Rogers

Reflecting on what it has taken to get where he is, Mike credits all the mentors in his life, mainly through basketball, from Coach Crump, Donald, Tre, Coach Paul, to Phoenix College’s Coach Eason.

“When Coach Crump and a couple of my friends passed away it made it so much more real. I just locked into life. Sharing those moments with them and God blessing me with the time I spent with them was a jump start. A lot of those conversations were about us making it in life. I just owe so many people to be successful. I promised so many people and I can’t let them down. I’m here for a reason.” – Mike Rogers

Students at Phoenix College come from all walks of life, some have experienced hardships, but all are champions of their own dreams of a college education. Athletics plays an important role, fostering personal growth, encouraging excellence, and aligning the body with the mind. The college boasts a proud history of offering athletic competition to students for over 100 years. Learn more about the success of Phoenix College teams and coaches at pcbearsathletics.com/

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