Sad Situation for Arizona and Chris Rodgers

What it all boils down to with Arizona prize recruit Chris Rodgers is that he is just a 17-year-old kid. Put yourself in his shoes for a moment. A reporter calls you at your house to see how things are going and to get a handle on a touchy eligibility situation. Instead of talking, you find it easier to tell the man on the phone that you are someone else and that "Chris has moved out…we don't know where he is". It sounds bad, but in the end it's completely understandable.

Being seventeen has a way of making the future seem very unimportant. Today matters, tomorrow (if it comes) is something to be dealt with later. Chris Rodgers is going through the dreadful "17's" right now in his situation with Arizona.

To recap what his exact situation is, all one needs to know is that he fell a mere 20 points shy of achieving a qualifying score on his SAT. That's two questions, folks. Two questions that separate him from where he is now and what was expected to be a promising career at the nation's premier guard school. Chris Rodgers is, after all, an unquestionably wonderful basketball player and one of the best guards in the entire class of 2002.

Even with his impressive 3.29 cumulative grade point average and his high school diploma in hand, the NCAA won't accept him because of those two wrong answers on a test he took one sleepy Saturday morning a few months ago. His NCAA Clearinghouse, or "core" classes, GPA is still more than respectable, at 3.08. It's not like this kid was skipping class or not doing his work. He just didn't perform well on one standardized test.

Because of the obvious ability to excel in the classroom, some immediately speculated as to whether or not Chris had a learning disability. If so, well then that SAT score would have its explanation and the NCAA would have to adjust its requirements since Chris was at a disadvantage. Hoping to keep all of his options open, Chris sat down and took yet another test, only this time it was one that could help diagnose the learning disability. The results were supposed to be in by Sunday but as of 7:00 p.m., Chris had still not called his lead recruiter at Arizona, Rodney Tention.

The whole time Chris has remained silent and never asked, "why me?" He must have been upset and he had to have been frustrated. All he ever wanted was to finish up at Portland's Wilson High School (alma mater of another great former Wildcat guard, Damon Stoudamire) and then come down to Tucson and play for Lute Olson at UA. So much so that he committed to Arizona without ever having seen the campus.

Jack Murphy, Arizona's ultra-popular student manager, was Rodgers' host on his official visit (post-commitment) to Tucson and he tells this story.

"While I was driving Chris around town on his visit, we got to the corner of Stone and Speedway and he turns to me and says, "man Murph, I love this place! Look how nice it is. I can't wait to come here and play, I just know that this is the right place for me."

Imagine if Murph had driven Chris out by Ventana Canyon instead of that less-than-spectacular area. He might not have ever wanted to fly back to Portland.

And that is part of why it's hard to understand where Chris Rodgers is coming from now. He says that he would rather spend a year at a prep school playing games than sit out at Arizona, practicing with the nation's No. 1-ranked team. In the grand scheme of things, it's only a year and he would benefit from the competition every day in practice, not to mention getting into the best shape of his young life thanks to the first rate strength and conditioning program at Arizona under Brad Arnett.

The only thing important to Chris at this point is playing basketball. He wants games, not practice. He wants to make an impact instead of sitting on the bench in street clothes his entire first year as a Wildcat. All of that is understandable. He's only 17, after all. A year is an eternity. And which of you at that age was willing to sacrifice a year for "the bigger picture"? Probably not many.

After what Chris has had to go through in his life up to this point, he's due to catch a break, and soon. He's already had an extremely difficult life, topped by a crushing family tragedy that I won't get into right now out of respect for him. He's been living with his grandfather in Portland and doing everything that has been asked of him as well. Adding this eligibility issue to the situation to his life has not been easy on him. Remember, all he wants to do is play basketball at Arizona, not sit out because of two lousy wrong answers.

Even if he tests positive for a learning disability, Rodgers and Arizona still must petition the NCAA for an appeal that his eligibility be fully restored. Last time anyone checked, the NCAA makes the DMV seem fast in dealing with issues like this. The NCAA is the organization that approved Arizona's Andre Iguodala (a would-be classmate of Rodgers) and his appeal to play as a freshman but somehow "forgot to inform him" of the decision until three weeks later.

The best case scenario here is that Rodgers has a learning disability, appeals the NCAA for full eligibility, wins and can play this year as a freshman. The only problem is that it's a pipe dream to think that he will get an answer from the NCAA by the time classes start on August 26th, thus complicating the matter even further.

Another sad part of this story is that now Rodgers isn't talking to anybody. Again, it's understandable. He's embarrassed by what has happened, that he didn't just pass the SAT on his first try and that he has had to take a test that might prove that he has a learning disability. At 17, those aren't things you want other people knowing about. Imagine that happening to you, not that it ever would have. Not only has it happened to Chris Rodgers but now everyone knows about it and is talking about it on the Internet.

I called him twice the other day (at his grandfather's house) in hopes of getting his side of the story and seeing where he stood about wanting to come and play at Arizona. The first time I called, a young man answered, almost definitely a teenager about Chris's age by the sound of him. He told me that Chris "moved out the other day" and that he had "no idea where he was" and that no one knew "how to get a hold of him." He ended the initial conversation by asking me to call back in an hour because he might know more about where Chris was by then or that maybe "he'd come back."

An hour later I called again. Same voice answered the phone but this time he tells me that he doesn't remember talking to me and that it "must have been my brother". At this point I'm pretty sure it's Chris himself, but I understand what's going on. I asked him if he knew whether or not Chris was still planning on coming down to Tucson for the start of classes on the 26th and the response was surprising.

He laughed for a moment and then said, "Nah, I don't think he'll be down there by then."

I learned later that Chris had not actually moved out of his grandfather's house and that the person I was speaking with was, in fact, Chris himself. Like I said before, I can understand why he wouldn't want to talk. I wouldn't want to either if I were him.

But the one thing I hope is that Chris, at 17, doesn't make a decision that affects the rest of his life like the one he's about to make if he decides to drop Arizona and head to prep school. His recruitment would re-open after that one year and it's not likely that Arizona would pursue him again.

Sitting out one year at Arizona while learning the system, getting better every day in practice and growing as an athlete and as a person couldn't be such a bad thing, could it? Could playing a meaningless season of prep school games be so much more important than the opportunity to have Lute Olson and his staff teach you the game? Isn't that not seeing the forest for the trees?

Sadly, the answer if you are 17-year-old Chris Rodgers could very well be, "yes".

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