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Small Victories

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Haverford School was all of two possessions into last Tuesday’s game with La Salle when Bernie Rogers spent his first timeout. His team—an olio of youngsters, reserves from last year’s team and old-fashioned athletes looking for a winter sport to pursue—had decided that beating the Explorers didn’t involve anything that had been covered during the last few practices or meetings.

As you might imagine, that didn’t please Rogers, and his soliloquy during the brief intermission emphasized that following the gameplan might not be such a bad idea. Thus refocused, the host Fords went out and built a four-point halftime lead, convincing all of those in attendance that the first-year coach and Archbishop Ryan expat was indeed a genius.

Fortunately for Rogers, the sentiment was not reversed when La Salle marauded through Haverford in the second half to secure a 52-33 victory. It was a rough final 16 minutes for the Fords, who at one point endured a 24-4 run. But anyone who has followed the Haverford basketball story over the past several years understands that the switch from former coach Henry Fairfax to Rogers was going to be a dramatic one. Almost immediately after Fairfax resigned last spring, Haverford stalwarts Lamar Stevens and Cameron Reddish announced their intentions to transfer. Stevens, a Penn State signee, moved on to Roman Catholic, while the sophomore Reddish emigrated to Westtown. Their departures, along with the graduation of Shawn Alston (now at Temple) left Haverford with about 50 returning points on the roster. Total. Rogers sure didn’t have to worry about managing any runaway egos on the team. Nobody scored enough last year to become an attitude problem. Rather than figuring out how to handle stars, Rogers decided to construct the team his way. “It’s challenging, but the school has a lot to offer, and people are attracted to it,” he says. “If people see the way you build a program and how you treat your players, that’s the best sales pitch.”

Rogers is a legend at Ryan, where he starred as a basketball and soccer player and then led the Raiders hoopsters to 13 Catholic League playoff appearances in 15 seasons at the helm, while compiling a 212-148 record. He’s a member of the school’s Basketball Hall of Fame and joins Fords football coach Mike Murphy as Northeast Philly guys trying to add a little urban grit to Haverford’s Main Line ethos. Murphy likes to joke that it’s all part of a master plan designed to fill the school’s ranks with guys who prefer their sleeves to monogramed handkerchiefs in the event of a sneeze.

It’s unlikely the pipeline down Roosevelt Boulevard will flow that copiously, but Rogers’ presence on the Haverford bench ensures the program will be grounded in the same fundamentals and toughness that made him so successful at Ryan. The Fords play with a tenacity that helps overcome their youth and lack of standouts. Rogers brings an authority and quiet confidence that carries over to his team. While few consider the Fords Inter-Ac League title favorites—not with Germantown Academy around—and most at the school would be delighted with a .500 showing in league play this year, there is no question the school is happy with Rogers and hopeful that he will build a contender quickly. “My goal is for a daily work ethic and team play to become givens,” Rogers says. “Then, we’ll work on skills and how we approach stopping other teams.”

Rogers, a father of six whose extended family’s presence at Haverford games assures the gym will always be relatively full, has made substantial strides in his quest to create a culture of hard work and selfless play. As he recruits for future editions, he will sell his track record, the school’s many offerings and the opportunity to be part of something that could be successful in the long term—while never forgetting Haverford’s overarching goals.

“My mission is the school’s mission,” he says. “I want to prepare kids for more than just basketball.”

One early timeout at a time.

EL HOMBRE SEZ: Villanova’s 78-55 loss to Oklahoma last Monday in Pearl Harbor demonstrates just how tough things can be for the Wildcats if they don’t hit their three-point shots. Nova has a lot of talent, but the loss to the Sooners shows Jay Wright has plenty of work to do … It’s great news that the Sixers have brought a grown-up in to head the basketball operation. Compiling draft picks, angering agents and cutting costs don’t add up to victories, and it was right for the league to step in and demand the team operate like a legitimate NBA franchise, no matter how much money Josh Harris and his fellow owners are making.

Bernie Rogers