There wasn’t a doubt in Chris Rodgers’s mind that he was going to take it strong.
Though his team faced what felt like an insurmountable lead in the fourth quarter against New Jersey high school power Christian Brothers Academy, and though the academy’s 6-foot-7 center, Pat Andree, stood between him and the rim during a Franklin High fast break, the senior guard decided quickly that he would not back down.
“Sometimes I don’t give big guys enough respect,” Rodgers said with a laugh after the game.
Taking off of his right foot and sailing into Andree’s chest, the 6-2, 160-pound shooting guard missed his lefthanded layup and hit the hardwood with a thud.
Sparked by their senior captain’s late-game effort, and with the help of his 20 points and five rebounds, the Panthers cut a 24-point deficit to 12 before ultimately falling last weekend in the Shooting Touch Shootout tournament game at Tufts University, 60-48.
“He’s a captain, he’s a leader, he’s our best player,” said Franklin coach Dean O’Connor . “It’s his responsibility to do that and make sure that guys are sticking with it.
“He has to be the example. . . . He does a great job with it. He made a couple big plays to get the lead down a little bit and then we could start fighting and trying to get it under 10. He’s a great kid, and he’s having a good season so far.”
Franklin (3-2) will rely on its do-it-all guard to guide them, especially early in the season as players get acclimated to their new roles. Rodgers averaged 18.6 points per game through five games and is also one of the best rebounders on the team. He used his 6-foot-6 wingspan and strong leaping ability to help him score 20 points and pull down 13 boards in a 55-48 win over Cardinal Spellman at the Shooting Touch Shootout.
Fellow senior cocaptain Pat O’Reilly called Rodgers “fearless” for his willingness to fight in the paint for rebounds.
“He’s a huge asset to our team both with his leadership and with what he does on the floor,” O’Reilly said. “His basketball IQ is off the charts. He’s always making shots. He’s always keeping kids in line, and telling kids what to do — even me if I don’t know what to do. He’s on everyone, and he’s a great player to have on our team.”
Last season served as Rodgers’s coming-out party. He averaged 12.5 points per game to go along with 5.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists while playing alongside point guard Sam Bohmiller , who now plays up Route 128 in Wellesley at Babson College. Both were Hockomock League All-Stars last season who helped the Panthers advance to the Division 1 South quarterfinals, where they gave an overtime scare to eventual EMass champ and league rival Mansfield.
Before that, not even Rodgers knew what a major role he would one day play for the Panthers. As a 5-foot-8 sophomore on the varsity squad, he estimated that he played about 40 minutes all season as the team’s 12th man.
“Every day at practice was tough,” he remembered. “But I learned so much. Looking back it was a very important year for me and my progression.”
It is that experience that he believes will help him help his younger and less experienced teammates improve as the season wears on.
“I’ve been in a lot of people’s shoes on this team,” Rodgers said. “I was in the same positions that they were in. I’m just encouraging them to keep working.”
Rodgers grew 5 inches following his sophomore season and was able to combine his guard skills with his new-found length to become a player who could get into the lane and finish around the rim with ease.
But he didn’t settle after last season’s success.
Focused on improving his jumper this offseason, he turned himself from what he considered a below-average 3-point shooter — he made just 10 in 24 games last season and said he went through a stretch of four games where he air-balled one in each — into a more consistent long-distance threat by working on his form at the Franklin YMCA and playing for Mass Premier AAU.
He has been accepted to play at his top choice of colleges, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, though he had not officially made his decision as of last week.
Before Rodgers moves on with his basketball career, he wants to help the Panthers win the Hockomock title. He knows it will be a daunting task with Mansfield looming, but he also understands that anything can happen if he and his teammates continue to work and improve throughout the course of the winter.
After witnessing a hard-fought loss to a talented out-of-state team over the holidays, Rodgers isn’t worried about his team’s effort level.
“I was proud of everyone,” he said. “We didn’t quit. We kept playing until the end, and that’s all you can do.”
Roles reversed in North-South rematch
The Newton North girls couldn’t help but flash back to the disappointing end of their past season. About 10 months after they were upset by Newton South at home in the first round of the Division 1 state tournament, they were back at the same place against the same team on Dec. 30.
“I think we were definitely emotional about it,” North coach Linda Martindale said. “There’s no question about it. It was palpable, I think. Being in the gym early you could feel it in the air a little bit. It was a little bit of déjà vu.”
This time around, the result was different. The Tigers received a huge game from senior Holy Cross commit Infiniti Thomas-Waheed — 31 points, 10 rebounds, 8 steals, 5 blocks — and pulled away from South to win easily, 72-28.
“They were really, really aggressive, but we pushed really hard early on and we didn’t let up,” Martindale said. “After the game, when you sort of take a breath and look at the game, you say, ‘Yeah, we were really motivated for the game.’ We didn’t talk about it, but afterward you could feel it. We were pretty hyped up for it.”
North got off to a 5-0 start this season behind senior captains Thomas-Waheed and Maddie Bledsoe , junior Amanda Ortiz and two sisters from East Boston: sophomore shooting guard Ednaijia Lassiter and freshman point guard Sayawni Lassiter.
South guard Emily Chang suffered an injury in the second quarter of the loss to North and did not return to the game. Coach Sam Doner did not expect her to miss any game action going forward. The sophomore sharpshooter is averaging 22 points per game so far this season for the Lions (3-2).