Men's Basketball

One moment, a lifetime of stories

The two cousins were coming in after a happy day spent fishing for catfish on Lake Barkley.

They met a pair of strangers also putting up their boat. Small talk ensued. One of the strangers asked the cousins if they were locals.

Seeing heads nod in the affirmative, he asked, “I guess you all probably know that kid who hit the shot in the tournament?”

Laughing, Josh Barnett pointed at his cousin, Ty Rogers, and said “that is the kid who hit that shot.”

In an instant, Ty Rogers had another entry for a growing collection. Turns out, hitting one of the more memorable buzzer-beating heart thumpers in NCAA Tournament history may not be the best part of the experience.

The now ex-Western Kentucky University guard has had three-and-a-half months of hearing how his three-point bomb that dropped Drake at the final horn in the NCAA Tournament first round looked and felt to others.

“People are still coming up, telling their story, what happened, how they felt, when the shot went down,” Rogers said. “It's been a lot of fun.”

The stories in Rogers' collection come from the familiar and from strangers. Start at Rogers' high school alma mater, Lyon County.

When Western and Drake went to OT on that March Friday, Lyon County Principal Carroll Wadlington had the contest turned on via video screens in every classroom in the school.

When the 26-footer from the right wing by the 2004 Lyon County valedictorian dropped through the net to make WKU a 101-99 winner, the school's 330 students reacted as one.

“For that moment, it was like one collective scream spread throughout the whole building,” Wadlington said. “It was really cool.”

That same Friday afternoon found Rogers' cousin, Barnett, teaching an American Government class at Paducah Tilghman High.

Barnett was trying to conduct normal school-day instruction — while simultaneously watching Western-Drake live, through March Madness on Demand, on the computer screen at his desk.

When his cousin hit the shot of the 2008 tourney (non-Mario Chalmers division), “I thought I played it pretty cool,” Barnett said. “But my kids all say I let out a scream. I guess I couldn't control my emotions.”

Of all the stories he's heard, Rogers' favorite involves WKU Athletics Director Wood Selig.

His role on the NCAA women's basketball tournament selection committee had Selig in Palo Alto, Calif., at the moment the WKU male hoopsters were trying to knock off No. 5-seed Drake.

Going a little crazy not being able to watch the Western men, Selig got relief from his official duties at the NCAA women's tourney practice sessions. He was directed to the Stanford University men's locker room as a place to watch WKU and Drake.

Deep in the bowels of Maples Pavilion, Selig watched all by himself on a 60-inch plasma TV as the senior backup guard buried a shot that the Red Towel set will talk about forever.

“I was screaming all by myself,” Selig said. “I threw open the door, and I start running down the hall. I just wanted to hug somebody. I felt like Jim Valvano”

Says Rogers: “I love that story.”

Family thrills

Before March 21, Ty Rogers was a local legend in Lyon County, where he played varsity basketball for six years and set the Kentucky state record for three-pointers made in a high school career.

The 6-foot-4 shooting guard had been a valuable player in four years at Western, filling in at every position from point guard to power forward.

But nobody who wasn't among the most devout followers of WKU sports would have recognized him in public.

Then Rogers hit what folks in Bowling Green call “The Shot.”

Suddenly, meeting relatives of Ty Rogers carries oomph.

Rogers' father, Jeff, played in a golf tournament at the Calvert City Country Club in Marshall County. He found himself paired with a man from Nashville.

Though both were wearing WKU caps, somehow they played 17 holes before discussing Western basketball's run to the 2008 Sweet 16.

Eventually, the man asked Jeff Rogers if he'd traveled the tournament trail with Western?

Jeff: I went to Tampa and Phoenix.

Playing partner: Man, you are a Topper fan.

Jeff: Well, my son was on the team.

“When the guy figured it out, he left the playing area to go tell his wife he was playing golf with Ty Rogers' father,” Jeff said.

In Eddyville, Ruth Rogers has a favorite story about her son and his shot, too.

When Ty was growing up, his mom says it was a family tradition to tape the One Shining Moment montages that end the CBS coverage of each year's NCAA Tournament.

This year, Ty Rogers was a huge part of that feature.

“It was weird,” Ruth said, “and so exciting.”

Lesson of the play

As the summer has progressed, Rogers has had daily opportunities to ponder the lesson of the one shot that literally changed his life.

With Western down one and only 5.7 seconds left in the overtime, Rogers inbounded the ball to Tyrone Brazelton.

The WKU point guard had to take the ball the length of the court. Roughly 98 times out of 100 in such situations, the player with the ball puts his head down and goes to the basket whether there is an opening or not.

In one of the better examples of thinking under pressure in NCAA history, Brazelton drove near the three-point line, drew three Drake defenders then kicked the ball to Rogers trailing the play.

“Stay poised,” Rogers said of what the lesson of the play is. “The most important part about that play was how Tyrone Brazelton handled the situation. On that big a stage, to keep your poise and read the play, it was just a great play by Tyrone.”

Of course, Rogers still had to hit the shot.

Ty Rogers scholarship

In the immediate aftermath of Rogers' bucket, Tim Brando, calling the Tampa sub-regional for CBS, opined that the Eddyville product should never pay for another meal in a Kentucky restaurant.

Ty Rogers says that lasted for about a month.

“That part has kind of slowed down as far as people giving me things and doing things for me,” Rogers said with a laugh. “I did get some meals paid for out of it.”

A guy who averaged 6.4 points for his senior year isn't likely to have pro basketball in his future. So Rogers spent his spring and summer interviewing for real jobs.

He figures hitting that last-second shot — and the publicity it brought him — “probably got me some interviews I might not have gotten. I don't think once you are in the interview, they are going to hire you because you hit a shot in a basketball game.”

Still, having accepted a position with a pharmaceutical sales firm in Owensboro, Rogers thinks his post-shot fame could open doors on sales calls. “I'm hoping it will,” he said.

Just last week, Rogers' buzzer beater was chosen as a finalist for the ESPY for Best Finish. “Extremely exciting,” Rogers said.

Already, Western pocketed $100,000 as a result of Rogers' shot thanks to fans voting the play via the Internet Pontiac's Game Changing Performance for the NCAA tourney.

WKU has taken the money and started a Ty Rogers Scholarship that will award $1,250 each year to a graduating senior from Lyon County forever.

Said Rogers: “Out of everything that's happened, that's probably the thing I'm happiest about. Lyon County has supported me so much for a long time. That scholarship, it's about the biggest honor anybody can have.”

For pure fun, it's hard to beat Ty Rogers' ever-burgeoning story collection.

Had he not drained the trey that eliminated Drake, Western would not have been in a restaurant in Phoenix later in the NCAA Tournament.

Since he did make it, lifelong Cubs fan Ty Rogers — “biggest Cubs fan you will ever meet,” he says — found himself one table in front of Chicago Manager Lou ­Piniella in a Phoenix eatery.

Rogers introduced himself and asked for an autograph. One of his WKU teammates told Sweet Lou he was talking to the guy who'd hit the big shot.

“He mentioned seeing it,” Rogers said. “Can you imagine that?

From one day of being the sports story in the nation to months of adding to a story collection that will last a lifetime, it's a pretty nice year Ty Rogers is having.