Transfers helping BGSU do big things

Alexis Rogers, left, and Erica Donovan combine for 25.2 points and 14.5 rebounds per game. Graham Hays/espnW.com

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio -- As part of the curriculum for an early childhood education major at Bowling Green State University, Alexis Rogers spent a portion of the past semester teaching on a daily basis in a local second grade classroom. An all-conference selection in each of her first two seasons for the Falcons, the fifth-year senior hopes to continue playing professionally when her college career concludes in a few months. But she is equally eager for a career in the classroom that awaits whenever basketball ends.

That much becomes clear when she explains her favorite subject to teach.

"As difficult as it is, I would say math because you can tell when they understand it," Rogers said. "It's something very apparent and obvious when they understand it. It just clicks and hands go flying up in the air."

Life isn't quite as tidy as arithmetic. There isn't an equation that, once learned, offers the correct answer every time. There can, however, be moments when something clicks into place, when a once-elusive answer become apparent.

For Rogers and Bowling Green teammate Erica Donovan, such moments came in figuring out that sometimes the best way to do big things is to start over small.

Rogers and Donovan began their college careers at Duke and NC State, respectively, programs that are two of the best known names in college basketball. What they thought they were supposed to find there they found instead at a school where the basketball team is better known for pestering giants in March than walking among them.

"I think after I got to Duke I realized that how big you go doesn't matter if you're not happy," Rogers said. "The name across your jersey, it matters, but it doesn't always matter. Especially because this was right after Elena Delle Donne was at UConn and left. So I was thinking to myself, not that we're close or anything, but if she can make that decision -- and she was all-everything -- and she can go to a smaller school, it really doesn't mean anything."

The first serious recruiting letter arrived around the time Rogers finished her sophomore season in high school. But that one was from Purdue, where her brother had been a football standout and people knew her. That seemed like an acquaintance checking in. The one that brought home the peculiarity of what was ahead in the recruiting experience came from Illinois. When she opened the envelope, confetti poured out, along with a pop-up picture of her face with an Illinois jersey. More and more pitches followed, program after program and coach after coach explaining why there was really only once choice to make.

An assistant on Curt Miller's staff at Bowling Green, current Falcons head coach Jennifer Roos, knew all about the 6-foot-1 forward from the Cincinnati area who was ranked among the nation's top 25 recruits by some scouting services. Rogers was the kind of in-state talent a program like Bowling Green could only look at through the window.

"Coming out of high school, she was recruitable," Roos said. "Not signable."

Rogers was interested in psychology, one of many programs at which Duke excels. She was wowed by the basketball facilities when she visited Durham. Coming from a high school that produced a lot of Division I athletes, she felt a program like the ACC powerhouse helped give her credibility. Most of all, it was where her mom told her she should go. So she did.

Recruited by the likes of NC State, Cincinnati, Memphis and UCF, Donovan, too, felt pressure to choose the biggest name when she went through the same process two years later. The pressure was again partly self-inflicted. A Toledo native who moved to San Antonio midway through high school, she helped her new school reach the state semifinals as a junior. But her senior season got away from her a little bit and she felt that some of the recruiting interest cooled. NC State still wanted her, and that was enough.

A long way from both her mom and siblings in San Antonio and much of the rest of her family in Toledo, she never felt comfortable in Raleigh. She played quite a bit for a freshman during the 2011-12 season -- 15 minutes per game off the bench for a team that won 19 games and played in the WNIT -- but time on the court couldn't stem the growing discomfort.

"The summer that we got to go home when I was at NC State, it was, 'do I want to come back?'" Donovan recalled of her thought process. "My freshman year was over; will my sophomore year be a little bit different? Am I truly missing home? Is it basketball? I had a lot of thoughts and a lot of feelings that were going through my head. But a lot of people told me to do what my heart was telling me to do, and my heart was telling me to come back closer to home."

Rogers played less in her lone season at Duke, just more than 150 minutes for a team that reached a regional final, but it wasn't just basketball that left her ill at ease. Normally the kind of happy personality who connects with the second graders she teaches now or the children she worked with in a day care center the past two years, her personality changed.

"I didn't want to talk to anyone," Rogers said. "I wanted to be by myself. That's kind of a sign of unhappiness that is very apparent."

She said few people at home or at the university seemed surprised when she decided to transfer. What surprised her was that nobody at home seemed disappointed in her. Those who knew her well enough to know her unhappiness were just glad she made a decision to do something about it. She had Xavier in mind as a destination when she made the decision to transfer, but it turned out the Cincinnati school didn't have a scholarship available. With summer running out, she was back to square one.

"I started the whole process of recruiting again," Rogers said. "But this time I told my mom I wanted to be an adult about it and do it myself because there were things I was looking for that she wasn't going to have to deal with because she wasn't here. So I told her I wanted to do it on my own, and she stayed out of it."

Rogers didn't know much about Bowling Green, about three hours north of Cincinnati in Ohio's northwest corner. Neither did Donovan, for that matter, even though she grew up just a few miles up the road from the school in Toledo. But under both Miller and now Roos, Bowling Green has a track record of absorbing transfers; Tamika Nurse (Oregon), Danielle Havel (DePaul) and Maggie Hennegan (Saint Louis) have all recently experienced success at a school within about four hours of their respective hometowns. First Rogers and then Donovan followed suit.

Bowling Green is close enough to home for both to have family in the stands at most games, even road games. The school itself has a medium-sized enrollment and a compact campus, neither claustrophobic nor overwhelming. The program's success over the past decade creates a culture in which new arrivals who can help win games are embraced rather than resented. It is a good place to start again.

"I think those two kids probably need more hugs because they've had a lot of people in their lives already in the coaching profession," said Roos, who noted Rogers has had three head coaches in college and around 15 assistant coaches. "That's just a lot. A lot of people to trust, a lot of people to get to know, a lot of different personalities."

The two of them are responsible for more than a third of Bowling Green's points and rebounds this season. Having them on the court together helped Bowling Green beat Michigan on a neutral court and Ohio State on its court, and nearly knock off Purdue on its turf.

"Those two kids allow us to be so much more versatile," Roos said. "Lex last year had to play emergency point guard, and she's played the 5 this year. She has the highest basketball IQ on the team. She's extremely versatile. She's been through so many games at the ACC level and here that there is nothing she hasn't seen. The same thing could be said for Erica."

Now Bowling Green's senior point guard, Jillian Halfill knew Rogers from the youth basketball circuit in Ohio. She helped the latter feel welcome, feel effectively a part of the freshman class when Rogers arrived only a couple of weeks before school began in 2010. But before the two ever met, when Halfhill was just another person in the stands watching Rogers play in a big high school game, she had a sense of what was to come.

"She was so talented. She was beyond her years," Halfhill recalled. "When I was watching her I was just like, 'This girl is going to be something.'"

Opponents from schools big and small would probably attest that Halfhill was right. More importantly, so might a bunch of Ohio second graders.