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WKU's Rogers is new big shot in little town

TAMPA — A man catches a ball, and he launches a dream. By the time the ball comes down, he is a slice of history.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we love the NCAA basketball tournament.

A ball spins in the arena lights, long and straight and improbable. For all purposes, it will hang there forever.

And that, one more delicious moment among the rest, is why we pay attention.

So begins the Legend of Ty Rogers, Western Kentucky sharpshooter and the future mayor of Eddyville, Ky. Score one for the Hilltoppers, and score one for lore.

One shot, and Rogers changed things for two schools Friday afternoon. One shot, and Western had not choked away a 16-point lead, and Drake had not come from behind to win, and the fans of the Hilltoppers had not seen another grand opportunity slip away. One long, unforgettable shot, and Rogers had lifted Western Kentucky to a 101-99 overtime victory in one of the wildest games the NCAAs have seen.

Such is the beauty of the tournament. It is players you would never expect hitting shots you will never forget. It is moments that pass by as quickly as a finger snap that will never go away.

For decades, in his hometown of Eddyville and all along the scattered small towns near the Cumberland River in the part of Kentucky that is darned-near Illinois, they will talk of Rogers' shot.

As of Friday afternoon, he is legend. When he is 50 years old, when he is 60, Rogers will walk into a restaurant, and the other diners will smile in his direction. Just like that, they will debate all over again whether Rogers' shot was really only 26 feet or if it was 36 or maybe even 56. They will argue over whether a half-second remained or a quarter-second when the ball snapped through the nets.

From now on, this is the legacy of Rogers, the Hilltopper who was the Drake-stopper. Western Kentucky fans will never tire of him now, and the tales of those final five seconds will never grow old.

They will talk about the team's final timeout, when for some reason, Rogers reminded point guard Tyrone Brazelton that he could always kick the ball out to him.

They will talk about Brazelton's furious push downcourt, and how Rogers trailed the play screaming so his teammate would know he was there.

They will talk about Brazelton's pass, and how Rogers — just inside the sideline and just short of the game clock — shot with two defenders in his face.

And finally, they will talk of how a hometown hero sprinted across a court, soaking up a moment, bouncing and bubbling and hugging every teammate he could reach.

"I don't know how far out I was, but I felt like it was in my range," Rogers said. "I thought it was good from the moment I caught the ball."

In the years to come, yeah, Western Kentucky fans will talk about that, too.

"He is set for life in Kentucky," said Darrin Horn, the Western Kentucky coach.

If you don't believe it, ponder another image, 810 miles away, as students poured into the hallways of Lyon County High School back in Eddyville.

It is a small high school in a small town, and as such, it takes its hometown heroes seriously. Horn joked that "all seven people" were out in the streets after Rogers' shot.

Well, not quite. There are three stop lights in Eddyville (population 2,350 in 2000), and a McDonald's and a Pizza Hut and a Hardees. Everyone seems to know Ty Rogers, and everyone seems to like him.

Ben Wilson, 17, was in an Arts and Humanities class at Lyon County High Friday, but there wasn't a lot of studying going on.

"When Ty hit that shot, everything went crazy," Wilson said. "People were running out into the halls, screaming and doing cartwheels."

No one around WKU ever doubted that Rogers can shoot. Oh, he started three different positions and he came off the bench, but everyone knew Rogers could shoot from across the river. After Friday's shot, he was asked that if he walked back out to that spot, how many shots he could make out of 10.

"I'd like to say eight," he said, grinning.

"There are people who will take the last-second shot, and there are people who want it," Horn said.

Who is going to say he's wrong? Certainly not teammate Matt Maresca. Before the game, Rogers told Maresca he had a feeling that Western would win on a last-second shot. That will become part of the legend, too.

One shot, and Rogers was suddenly Bryce Drew of Valparaiso in '98 or U.S. Reed of Arkansas in '81 or Chris Lofton of Tennessee in '06. One shot, and thousands of replays and million of memories.

For years, Rogers said, he and his family would watch basketball, and would hear the One Shining Moment song. Kids being kids, Rogers would dream.

This was better than dreaming.

This was legendary.

WKU's Rogers is new big shot in little town 03/21/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 23, 2008 10:42pm]
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