Nick Rogers had three fingers on his right hand essentially severed in a lawnmower accident two summers ago. Surgeons managed to re-attach two, leaving him with just half of his middle finger. Given the severity of the injury, returning to the basketball floor appeared to be a pipe dream. Rather than sidelining him, however, the injury wound up motivating him.
"He got up every morning at 4:30 or 5:00 to work on his game," Felix Rogers, Nick's father, told InsideTennessee from the family home in Indianapolis. "He's hungry, and a very, very hard worker. He's got tremendous character. I think he has a tremendous determination and a work ethic to be successful."
Through relentless work, the 6-foot, 180-pound Rogers gradually became almost as adept at dribbling and shooting with his left hand as he had been with his right. When his fingers eventually healed he found himself ambidextrous, even with half of his right middle finger missing.
"He's just as good shooting and dribbling with his left hand as his right," said Kraig Cox, Rogers' coach at Traders Point Christian Academy in Indianapolis. "He averaged 20.8 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game last season. He shot around 47 percent from the field, 41 percent from 3 and 81 percent from the foul line."
Though equally adept driving and scoring inside with his left or right hand, Rogers shoots jump shots with his right hand, despite missing half a finger.
"If you watch him play now you can't tell there was ever an accident," Felix Rogers said. "It's really not that big of a deal."
By forcing him to spend so much time developing his left hand, the lawnmower accident actually may have elevated Nick Rogers' game.
"Prior to the injury he had no schools looking at him," Felix Rogers said. "Post injury he's got 16 offers. That just goes to show his work ethic, his hunger to be successful."
One of those 16 offers is from Ole Miss, where Al Pinkins was assistant coach/recruiting coordinator in 2013-14. Another of the 16 offers is from Tennessee, where Al Pinkins currently serves as assistant coach/recruiting coordinator. That is why Nick Rogers and his dad were planning to check out the Vol basketball program Thursday afternoon.
"We're very, very excited about this opportunity," Felix Rogers said. "We're very excited about the school, very excited about Coach Donnie Tyndall, and we're very excited about Coach Pinkins being there.
"We've done our homework, and we know Coach Tyndall won as an assistant at Middle Tennessee. He won as a head coach in junior college. He won as a head coach at Morehead State, then he went to Southern Miss and won there. It seems like he's been very successful everywhere he's been. And he's got good assistants. We're eager to see if Tennessee is a good fit for my son and if he's a good fit for Tennessee."
Former Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin was recruiting Nick Rogers a year ago, inviting him to participate in the Elite Skills Camp last summer. The player showed up for the camp but couldn't compete because of a deep-thigh bruise. He subsequently dropped off the Vols' radar.
"When Larry Austin (Class of 2014 point guard from Springfield, Ill.) committed they kind of backed away," Felix Rogers recalled.
Austin signed with Tennessee last November but switched his allegiance to Xavier when Martin left the Vols for Cal in April. Austin's decision, along with the transfer of sophomore Darius Thompson to Virginia, leaves Tennessee without a true point guard on its roster.
Ultimately, Nick Rogers might be the guy destined to fill that void in the Class of 2015. In addition to being a quality scorer and distributor, he plays mean on-the-ball defense. He proved that in AAU action this spring representing the Eric Gordon Central Stars, going against Justin Simon, Scout's No. 1 Class of 2015 point guard and No. 16 overall prospect, and Dennis Smith, Scout's No. 3 Class of 2016 point guard and No. 25 overall prospect.
"His team ended up 14-2 in the league," Felix Rogers said. "He held Dennis Smith to nine points, and Smith is rated by some the top point guard in the Class of 2016. He held Justin Simon, a 6-5 point guard who is committed to Arizona, to zero points."
That's pretty impressive work for a guy who two years ago appeared to be a longshot to play basketball again.