Despite suffering a knee injury during his senior season at Westerville South High School, Jelani Rogers never lost faith that he would return to the basketball court.
Rogers sustained a right ACL injury during an 81-46 win over Reynoldsburg in the 2015-16 season opener. Nearly two years later, the former Wildcats point guard is ready to return to the court, having committed to play at Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida.
A strenuous rehabilitation regimen helped make the difference in Rogers’ recovery.
“I’m itching to play,” Rogers said. “I took a year to rehab to get stronger and work on my game because an ACL is more of a two-year injury. I didn’t want to take the risk of re-injuring it.”
The Pioneers are a two-year program and compete in the Southern Conference of the Florida College System Activities Association, which is part of the National Junior College Athletic Association.
Rogers, who said he is “105 percent” health-wise, hopes to play at the school for one or two years before transferring to a larger school.
Indian River finished 17-12 last season, losing to Broward College 97-85 in a conference tournament first-round game.
“We’re excited to get (Rogers) here,” said Indian River coach Charlie Wilson, who is preparing for his second season. “With his situation of not playing in a couple years, we dug into what we could and watched a lot of film from two years ago. We like what he does. … He’s going to come in and compete. We play two point guards a lot.”
Rogers credits a relationship his family built with former Ohio State assistant coach Jeff Boals as a key to landing a spot with Indian River. Boals is now the head coach at Stony Brook in New York.
“They really believed in my ability and now I have to prove why I’m back on the court,” Rogers said.
He remained active academically following graduation in 2016 and has completed online courses through Columbus State.
Rogers’ goal is to land at a Division I program after playing at Indian River.
“Jelani is in a really good position because he can be picky,” Wilson said. “If he comes in and has a good year but doesn’t quite get what he’s looking for, he has the option to come back a second year. Or being a guy who can transfer (after one year) and (have) three years (of eligibility) left is going to make him very attractive to a lot of Division I schools.”
Longtime South coach Ed Calo said Rogers is one of his all-time favorite players.
“Jelani is a special kid and has a great work ethic and is just great to be around,” Calo said. “There was no doubt in my mind (that he would return) because he’s such a great worker. He worked so hard to put himself in a position to be an excellent high school basketball player, but I knew his basketball career wasn’t over. … He loves the game.”
Rogers missed most of his senior season before making an appearance in the final minute of South’s 87-78 win over Garfield Heights in a Division I state semifinal March 18, 2016, at Ohio State.
The Wildcats went on to defeat Lima Senior 57-55 the following night in the state title game.
Rogers helped lead South to the state final the previous season, but the Wildcats lost to Huber Heights Wayne 65-57. He was named second-team all-OCC-Cardinal Division and special mention all-district.
“(The coaches at South) taught me a lot,” Rogers said. “They helped me become a better man and a better player and I’ve learned so much there, not just on the court, but off the court, too.”