By Allen Palmeri
BOLIVAR—He is, without question, the Big Man on Campus.
Matt Rogers stands 6-foot-11 and is the preseason Player of the Year in NCAA Division II Basketball. The Southwest Baptist University (SBU) senior has been discovered by National Basketball Association teams. His life may very well be a professional sports ministry in the making.
As an All-American basketball player on a small campus, Rogers has become an ambassador of sorts for his university. This is his time. God has prepared him to talk about his abundant college life—and to dream.
“He’ll get an opportunity, because he’s 6-11, runs well, jumps well, shoots well,” said SBU Coach Jeff Guiot. “I mean, he has a lot of traits that a lot of people don’t have in the country.
“If you make the NBA, you’re going to have a ministry. That’s just a given. You’ve got a better chance of becoming a brain surgeon than you do an NBA player. A very select, few people get that stage. That’s got to be God’s anointing on that situation. We talk about it’s what you do with your gift.”
Rogers is a “PK”—a preacher’s kid. His father, Wade, was pastor of First Baptist Church, Doniphan, for 13 years. That is the county seat congregation of Ripley County in southeast Missouri, not far from Arkansas and half-consumed by the Mark Twain National Forest. That is where Wade and his wife, LaDonna, raised Matt from age 5 through 18; his father has since become pastor of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Highlandville.
Questions about how Rogers is handling the extra attention, responsibility and pressure this year are filtered through the lens of his maturation at First Doniphan, the church where he was converted at age 10.
“I think I’m taught to try and stay as humble as I can,” Rogers said.
He speaks of trying to be faithful to his parents and to what God has for him. There is a strong sense of him being, as SBU President C. Pat Taylor says, “well-grounded.” An inquiry about the substance of that foundation produces a far-ranging list of Biblical benefits.
“Anything from how to love your family, to how to treat a woman, to how to treat a stranger,” he said. “How to live with character and integrity, how to build a family on morals and with a godly foundation that’s going to last a lifetime … there’s so many things that my parents have taught me that I want to continue and try to use in my life.”
Last year Rogers averaged a little more than 18 points and 8 rebounds a game. He also led Division II players with 123 blocked shots. Dangerous both in the post and from far away, he made 40.7 percent of his shots from beyond the 3-point line and helped lead the Bearcats to a 26-5 record and their third conference championship in the last four years.
The scoring load may be even heavier on him this year since the Bearcats return only one other starter. Rogers, in typical low-key fashion, said he will handle it as best he can.
“There’s more at stake as far as what people expect of me, but, at the same time, if I let that go to my head, then it’s just going to be something that holds me back,” he said. “I just have to prepare and go at it with the attitude that I’ve tried to the last three years—just work as hard as I can and try to continue to portray the Christian morals, the lifestyle that I have so far.”
Along the way he is sure to grow into his role as a university spokesman, representing a campus tucked away in rural Missouri that markets itself primarily to Missouri Baptist students like himself.
“There are a lot of good people here,” he said. “I love my professors. I’m in a lot of Bible classes, so they’re into what they’re teaching. They show up every day with an excitement to try to instill in us what they’ve been taught throughout the years.”
Speaking rather plainly about the benefits of getting an education at SBU is something Rogers does quite naturally, Guiot said.
“Matt’s been preparing for this his whole life,” his coach said. “There’s nothing phony about Matt. What you see is what you get. He walks the walk. Matt’s going to be Matt. Matt’s very sincere. Matt has several gifts and they all kind of intertwine.”
The basketball giftedness evokes comparisons to current NBA players like Dallas Mavericks Forward Dirk Nowitzki and Denver Nuggets Forward-Center Chris Andersen. Nowitzki is an 8-time NBA All-Star who shoots amazingly well from long range for a 7-footer who weighs 245 pounds. At 6-10 and 228 pounds, Andersen (minus the tattoos) is a good mirror for Rogers’ 6-11, 220 body type. Andersen’s ability to rebound, to block shots, and to play fairly good NBA defense with a “long and athletic” frame is what reminds Guiot of his current force in the middle.
Besides being a very talented basketball player, Rogers is an accomplished guitar player who has his own music ministry through the band Sunday’s Coming. He ministers in various local settings with fellow seniors Micah AuBuchon (guitar) and Jenny Martin (percussion).
“Playing guitar’s just kind of become my hobby,” he said. “It’s a getaway, and when I’m leading worship it’s the easiest way for me to worship.”
Guiot classified another one of his senior center’s gifts as an ability to get along well with people. He loves those around him, and that is what really excites the SBU family. They can visualize Rogers going to the NBA and not losing his faith.
“Matt’s drive to go to the NBA is not about Matt,” Guiot said. “It’s about people. It’s about reaching people. It’s about being able to give back to his family. It’s about God, and it’s about loving your neighbor as yourself.”