John Rogers
Courtesy John Rogers

He beat Michael Jordan 1 on 1; now he leads U.S. Olympic 3×3 hopes

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John Rogers likes to say that beating Michael Jordan one-on-one was not his greatest basketball accomplishment.

“That was an individual effort,” Rogers said. “That was obviously very exciting, very memorable. But I have to say my highlight of my basketball life was making the team at Princeton.”

He played for Pete Carril four decades ago. But in the next year, Rogers could see the fruit borne of three decades of labor. He is the godfather of U.S. three-on-three basketball (or 3×3, as it is labeled internationally).

The half-court discipline debuts at the Olympics next year. The U.S. team that won the world championship earlier this summer traces its roots to Rogers’ Hoop It Up teams from the 1990s.

Rogers is already planning to go to Tokyo.

“That would be way, way up there,” he said. “It would be such a proud, extraordinary moment for all of us affiliated with Princeton basketball. If we could get Coach Carril over there, that would be great.”

Rogers is the “founding father” of Team Princeton 3×3, said Craig Moore, a former Northwestern guard brought into the fold by Rogers several years ago.

“Sponsor, advisor, coach,” said former Purdue honorable mention All-America Robbie Hummel, who joined the program a year ago and earned MVP at worlds (more on Hummel’s story here). “For him to care about 3×3 is a little mind-boggling.”

Rogers, 61, has enough to keep him occupied with his day job. He couldn’t watch his players at the U.S. Championships in Colorado Springs this spring because it conflicted with Warren Buffett‘s Berkshire Hathaway meeting.

“I was monitoring it,” Rogers said of nationals, where two four-man squads made up of Team Princeton players met in the final.

Those two teams were named Ariel NYAC and Ariel Slow & Steady as a tribute to Rogers, who stepped away from playing in 3×3 tournaments as he got into his 40s and 50s.

Rogers is the chairman of Chicago-based Ariel Investments, long billed as the largest minority-owned investment firm. The company’s symbol has been a tortoise for its 36 years.

“It reminds people that … us older, slower guys are beating the faster and younger,” Rogers said.

Which is just what happened in Las Vegas in August 2003 at Michael Jordan’s Senior Flight School. The camp, attended by affluent businessmen in the early 2000s, had a registration fee of $15,000.

The Wall Street Journal posted video in 2008 of a glasses-wearing Rogers driving and scoring on Jordan, winning 3-2 in a game of make-it, take-it after Jordan’s last season with the Washington Wizards. The result caused spectator and actor Damon Wayans to tell Jordan in front of the campers, “How do you feel about getting humiliated?” by a man five years older.

Rogers had previously been profiled as the $8 billion money manager who collected teddy bears and ate one meal a day at McDonald’s. But while rising the business ranks, he also put to use what he learned at Princeton on the blacktops of his native Chicago.

Rogers, who started seven games in three varsity seasons for Carril’s teams from 1977-80, joined fellow former Tigers Craig Robinson and Kit Mueller to form the core of a 3×3 team that won three “Shoot the Bull” tournaments against fields of some 2,000 teams two decades ago.

Robinson, the older brother of Michelle Obama, went on to become a head coach at Brown and Oregon State. Mueller finished his tenure as Princeton’s No. 2 career points scorer behind former U.S. Senator and 2000 presidential candidate Bill Bradley. Arne Duncan, a former Harvard player and later the U.S. Secretary of Education under Barack Obama, was also part of the group when it expanded beyond Princeton. Rogers is known to have been part of Obama’s pickup basketball crew, too.

Rogers said they became one of the best teams in the country playing the Hoop It Up 3×3 tour by using Carril’s motion-predicated Princeton offense. In 3×3, a basket from beyond the arc is worth two points. All others are worth one point. Games end after 10 minutes or once a team scores 21.

“Pete Carril would always say — and he was very ahead of his time — that he wanted you to get layups and three-pointers,” said Moore, who never played for Carril but sat in the front row with him for a Brooklyn Nets game and has had dinner with him 15 or 20 times. “We’re going for the highest value for the highest percentage shot as well. Defensively, we’re trying to do the exact opposite: the most risky shot with the least percentage of going in.”

Carril, who coached Princeton from 1967-96, including a first-round upset of defending champion UCLA in his last NCAA Tournament, turned 89 last month. Rogers and Moore noted that Carril’s emphasis on finding tall players who can dribble, pass and shoot translates to the quick-thinking 3×3 game.

“The way that we are all taught to cut and face the court is perfect,” for 3×3, Rogers said. “Coach Carril is proud of his legacy moving on in a new way.”

There are no on-court coaches allowed in international 3×3 basketball. If Rogers’ players are chosen to make up the U.S. Olympic team next year — and it’s trending that way — he may have to watch games with the crowd at the outdoor venue in Tokyo.

Moore said that as Rogers underwent knee and elbow surgeries, he ceded playing responsibilities to fresher legs like Moore and Hummel. Other players in the current program include Princeton alums and past Ariel interns.

Rogers took on a combination role of coach, general manager and sponsor, helping fund the team to travel internationally and accumulate FIBA rankings points. Moore said Rogers handed him a “carte blanche” role in 2016 to identify and bring in players, such as Hummel last year. But Rogers streams games and offers feedback by phone afterwards.

“I’m sort of a helpful set of eyes and ears,” Rogers said. “I kind of played that role as I got too old to play myself. I’m on the board of directors at Nike now. It’s cool to tell our friends there how good our 3×3 team is going to be next year.”

MORE: How U.S. Olympic 3×3 teams will be chosen

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Punahou, Barack Obama’s school, produced Olympic talent in 4 sports

Punahou School
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Some high schools have a swimming tradition. Others produce great ice hockey or water polo players. The Punahou School in Honolulu, private and K-12, is best known for a student who also played basketball — its most famous graduate, Barack Obama.

Also this: Dating to Obama’s tenure in 1976, at least one Punahou student went on to make the last 11 U.S. Summer Olympic teams.

And with the addition of skateboarding and surfing to the Olympic program, there are former Punahou students among the best in the country in four different Olympic sports, plus another Paralympic sport.

“One of my favorite things about going to Punahou was that I felt like I was surrounded by a lot of excellence,” said Carissa Moore, the reigning world champion in surfing and a Punahou grad. “A lot of my friends are some of the smartest girls, women. … The whole school, everyone is doing something.”

Moore, 27, qualified for the U.S. Olympic team with her fourth world title last year. Heimana Reynolds is the reigning world champ in park skateboarding.

Brothers Taylor and Trevor Crabb are on different beach volleyball teams ranked among the top three in the country. Erik Shoji is a veteran libero and Micah Ma’a a promising setter and outside hitter for the U.S. indoor volleyball team.

Shelby Baron is a Rio Paralympic wheelchair tennis player who is now ranked third in the country.

It’s possible that they could all qualify for the Tokyo Games, which have been postponed to summer 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Punahou, whose name means “the New Spring,” referencing renewal and a spring at the center of the campus, bills itself as the largest single-campus independent school in the U.S. and reportedly the oldest west of the Mississippi.

It was founded in 1841 with a first class of 15 students who were children of congregational missionaries. Now, it has more than 3,700. Annual tuition is $26,000, though there are financial aid options.

“This used to be an elite school, you know. Mostly rich. Predominantly Caucasian,” said Eric Kusunoki, who was Obama’s homeroom teacher for four years as part of his four decades working at Punahou. “But then when I stepped foot here, I said, wow, you know, it’s so diverse. Hawaii’s golden people, you know.

“It’s [a] very cosmopolitan campus and very reflective of what Hawaii is like.”

The school has been compared to Stanford. Sports Illustrated ranked it the No. 1 high school athletic program in 2008, replete with an eight-page magazine spread, and again in 2009. The magazine deemed it a “76-acre citadel of academic and athletic excellence where Aristotle meets Duke Kahanamoku.”

Kahanamoku, the Olympic swimming champion and surfing pioneer, never attended Punahou.

But several famous athletes are among the alumni. Like Michelle Wie, Manti Te’o and Obama, who played one season of varsity basketball on the Buff n’ Blue’s 1979 state title team.

In fact, Obama wrote in his autobiography that the lure of Punahou helped keep him in the States with his grandparents rather than flying back to Indonesia with his mom.

Obama, needing a financial aid scholarship to attend, toured the campus with his grandfather before the fifth grade. “Gramps grabbed me by the arm. ‘Hell, Bar,’ he whispered, ‘this isn’t a school. This is heaven,’” Obama wrote.

“He wasn’t a big standout,” Kusunoki said of the student they called Barry. “But yet everybody knew him. He was well-liked, well-known, but he did it real subtly.”

Others followed Obama with athletic success. Reynolds was a skateboard prodigy, profiled by the local NBC affiliate as a 10-year-old before leaving Punahou after 10th grade. He switched to online classes to accommodate all his traveling for competition.

Skateboarding and surfing are not sanctioned high school sports in Hawaii. Moore still won a record 11 National Scholastic Surfing Association titles. In her spare time, she was such a convincing tour guide for prospective Punahou students that admissions officers called her “The Closer,” according to SI.

“I have heard this,” Moore said, smiling when told the nickname. “It wasn’t really ever a big thing for me, but yes, I would bring potential prospects that would come to the school and stuff and give them tours.

“It’s just a beautiful environment to learn. It’s a very comfortable, free environment. The best part of this community is they’re going to support you in chasing your dreams.”

Moore said she was classmates with Taylor Crabb, one half of the U.S.’ top-ranked men’s beach volleyball team. Taylor’s mom, Paula, a champion canoe racer, has been a Punahou P.E. teacher since Obama was there. Taylor and partner Jake Gibb have been competing against Taylor’s older brother, Trevor, and Tri Bourne for Olympic beach volleyball berths.

It’s possible both Crabb brothers, who grew up a five-minute walk from the Punahou campus, can make it to Tokyo.

“Whenever someone says, oh, I went to Punahou, the first thing someone says is, oh, it’s where Barack Obama went,” said Trevor, who won a state basketball title and goes back to campus about once a year to see the old gym.

Shoji’s father, Dave, was the University of Hawaii’s women’s volleyball coach for 42 years, capturing four national titles and retiring in 2017 as the winningest coach in NCAA history. Ma’a won four state titles in volleyball at Punahou and others in football and basketball. At 22 and fresh out of UCLA, he was the second-youngest U.S. player at the 2019 Volleyball Nations League.

Both Trevor Crabb and Moore said you wouldn’t know it by walking around campus that Obama once roamed the grounds. He contributed to just one of a reported 505 state championships in the school’s history, a record for any state.

“There’s nothing up there yet,” of the 44th U.S. President, Moore said, “but it’s definitely something the school is very proud of.”

MORE: Hockey field to hospital ward: Olympian’s life amid coronavirus pandemic

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IOC, sport federations in talks about Tokyo Olympic age rules

Gabriel Jesus
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The International Olympic Committee and Olympic sport federations hope to finalize any adjustments to age rules for the Tokyo Games within the next two weeks.

Two sports’ rules stand out in particular.

Since the 2000 Sydney Games, an age minimum in artistic gymnastics requires female Olympians to turn 16 years old or older in the Olympic year (men must turn 18, though the age rule is less of a factor for top male gymnasts). As such, Tokyo Olympic eligibility rules state all female artistic gymnasts must be born Dec. 31, 2004, or earlier.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) can choose to keep the Dec. 31, 2004, deadline. Or it could keep the 16 or older mandate by moving that date to Dec. 31, 2005 for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. The federation hasn’t announced its plan.

Its decision could impact U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team selection. At least one woman who turned 16 or younger in the Olympic year made the last 10 U.S. Olympic teams. That includes Kyla Ross, the 2011 U.S. junior all-around silver medalist who made the 2012 Olympic team. And Laurie Hernandez, the 2015 U.S. junior all-around champion who made the 2016 Olympic team.

The 2019 U.S. junior all-around champion, Kayla DiCello, turned 16 on Jan. 25. The 2019 U.S. junior all-around silver medalist, Konnor McClain, turns 16 on Feb. 1, 2021. Under the 2020 Olympic eligibility rules, McClain is 32 days too young for the Tokyo Games. If the birthdate deadline is moved one year forward, McClain would be eligible.

Another sport facing an age decision: men’s soccer. Olympic men’s soccer tournaments are limited to players who turn 23 or younger in the Olympic year with three over-age exceptions. Similar to the FIG, FIFA can keep its 2020 deadline of Jan. 1, 1997. Or it can keep its under-23 mandate and move the birthdate deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

“You can imagine there’s a logic to looking at that, having the same athletes or teams that achieved the qualification place to be the ones taking part next year, but aiming to confirm that with the respective federations,” IOC sports director Kit McConnell said Thursday.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, was born Sept. 18, 1998, and thus will be unaffected. Same goes for French superstar Kylian Mbappe, born Dec. 20, 1998.

Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus was born April 3, 1997, and would become an over-age exception if the birthdate rule is moved to Jan. 1, 1998.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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