NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Entering the Nike EYBL Peach Jam, Chris Paul’s Team CP3 had a pretty straightforward recipe for success. Get the ball in the hands of top overall prospect Harry Giles III down low, let him play an inside-outside game with superstar point guard Alterique Gilbert and let everyone else feed off the double-teams and open looks the duo would create. The concept worked well, yet it was most effective when another eye-catching prospect also walked on to the floor. It’s understandable if you didn’t notice him; he’s one of the smallest high school basketball players most have ever seen.
The player in question is Darnell Rogers, of course. The uber-diminutive point guard — he is listed at 5-foot-3,but is probably much closer to 5-foot-1 — is whippet fast and eel elusive, constantly racing by would-be defenders or shedding them around picks that are both designed and improvised. As he proved during his team’s second game of the tournament, Rogers has no conscience when receiving the ball outside the box; he’ll shoot from anywhere. And if any window emerged to slip a pass through to Giles, Rogers would see it practically before it even existed. He is that good.
Rogers’ precise court vision and decision making wasn’t lost on Giles III, who was all too happy to acknowledge a special bond between the two players on the court.
“I love to play with him,” Giles said. “He’s a lot of fun. (The height difference) may look weird, but on the court we’re just two players having fun.”
The guard certainly reciprocated those feelings.
“Of course I love playing with Harry,” he said. “He’s the best in the country. Anyone would love to play with him.”
For Rogers, a spot with Team CP3 was a dream come true. The Indian Land hoops star had already earned plaudits here at USA TODAY and elsewhere, but a spot with CP3 would pair him with two of the nation’s hottest recruits and ensure that he received maximum exposure. Given the chance, Rogers didn’t disappoint, particularly when he was paired alongside Gilbert rather than in his place.
The dual point guard formation left some watching college coaches fixated on CP3’s explosiveness. Three different coaches who happened watching on during CP3’s 83-59 demolition of Team Penny responded to the two guards with the following phrases: “Wow,” “That lineup is, whoa,” and “Just so fast.”
The most impressive thing about those comments? That victory wasn’t even a particularly strong performance by Giles, who finished with eight points, or Rogers, who had seven. Part of those limited stats came from the time both spent on the bench as the game transformed into a blowout, but part also came from the style of both players themselves, happy to facilitate for their teammates as much as score themselves.
There’s little question that Giles’ ability to feed and create for teammates out of the post is part of what made Rogers so comfortable on the court with CP3. The 6-foot-10 superstar often found Rogers, Gilbert and the team’s squadron of sharp shooting guards as soon as he drew a double team in the paint, leaving open windows for deep bombs from the shooters. And once they were connecting, those guards could suddenly find Giles in single coverage or open as the zones collapsed on the cutting guards. The reciprocal offensive sets left Chris Paul and head coach Jon Adams excited on the bench, cheering on both Giles and the point guard they affectionately called, “Little man.”
Indeed, Paul in particular seemed to hold a special spot for Rogers, alongside the likes of Giles and Gilbert. During the course of the Peach Jam, only three players sat next to Paul on the Team CP3 bench: Giles, Gilbert and Rogers.
“I can feel his struggle,” Adams, who is also shorter than 6-foot, said of coaching Rogers. “But he’s a special talent. He can really play, and he makes things happen for us. It’s been a pleasure to coach him.”
While the entire recruiting world is focused on where Giles decides to go, Rogers’ performance on the EYBL circuit sparked legitimate intrigue itself. As this excellent feature by CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander points out, the pint sized guard was being watched by the likes of Richmond and Bowling Green, along with the alma mater of his father, former George Washington star Shawnta Rogers. No Big 5 conference schools have expressed an interest, though Rogers seems just fine with that. Like Giles, he’s much more interested in how he’s playing at the moment than where he will play in the years ahead.
“I’ve mostly been talking to the coaches at George Washington, because my father went there,” Rogers said. “They want me to come.
“I just want to play as well as I can in every game and show what I can do. We want to execute the game plan, and I want to do whatever I can to help the team win.”
Rogers did plenty of that throughout the duration of the EYBL spring campaign. So did Giles. Now they both head toward their senior seasons, with their collegiate future on the not so distant horizon, two young men nearly two feet apart, but with a very similar head on their shoulders.