In less than two years at the Academy of Art University, Brooke Rodgers has already built the sort of reputation around campus that many collegiate athletes spend a career aspiring to build.
On the court, coaches and teammates compare her game to the likes of Ja Morant, A.C. Green and Kobe Bryant, citing her defensive tenacity, leadership and focus during practice and games. Off the court, Rodgers is described as a fun-loving and creative college student who is well on her way to becoming a prominent social media influencer and T.V. scriptwriter.
While Rodgers has received some significant praise at the start of her Urban Knights career, she knows she has earned everything that has come to her. “I always put my best foot forward and give it my all,” Rodgers said. “I feel like if I’m going to do something, I should do it to my best potential or there’s no reason for me to be doing it. I think that’s something I really take pride in as a person.”
Before she was making her presence felt at the small art school in San Francisco, Rodgers’ hard-working personality sprouted as a young girl growing up in a large sports-oriented family in Chicago. Living near a number of her cousins, Rodgers said she developed a competitive fire while spending time with them, whether it be playing sports or any other activity.
“I have a lot of boy cousins that I grew up with, so it was always competitive, especially with me being the only girl,” Rodgers said.
After competing with her cousins during her formative years in Chicago, Rodgers said she applied that fire to sports when she moved to Litchfield Park, Arizona in 2009. She first became a cheerleader for the Motion Mustangs, a youth football league organized by her father, Richard. However, her passion for cheerleading quickly translated to basketball after she watched her brother, Quincy, compete on the hardwood.
“My brother actually played basketball before me, so I would go to [his] games all the time, watching him,” Rodgers said. “That’s kind of how I was like, ‘Oh, this is something that I want to do. I want to try it.’”
Rodgers’ interest in basketball prompted her to begin organized play, joining the Litchfield Park recreational basketball league for one year. After playing games every weekend in the league for a year, Rodgers took her basketball commitment to another level at eight years old, joining “Motion Basketball,” a co-ed AAU team that was coached by her father.
Playing for her father for four years, Rodgers said she learned how to master the mental aspect of the game, a skill that would turn her into a savvy point guard as she entered high school.
“[It was] a lot of fundamentals at first,” Rodgers said. “I was developing into a point guard, so just learning those skills, the I.Q. of the game. [I learned that] it's more than just being able to shoot, you have to be able to think about everything all at once. That was the very first thing that I learned.”
With years of AAU experience already under her belt, Rodgers entered Agua Fria High School in 2016 as a smart, seasoned point guard. Her rare skill set would allow her to not only start on her varsity team as a freshman, but even serve as a team captain.
While Rodgers said she was told --- mostly by her mother, Stacy --- that she was a “natural leader,” she admitted it was difficult to take the lead on her team at a young age because she did not feel qualified on a team full of upperclassmen. However, the experience as captain helped the young teenager step out of her comfort zone and cultivate leadership qualities that she could take with her throughout her life.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking,” Rodgers said. “There were older people on this team, there were seniors and juniors, and I was thinking, ‘I don’t have a place to be telling these girls what to do.’ I was kind of scared to not overstep what I should do and what I shouldn’t do. But it really taught me leadership at a young age and how to approach the role. Just learning [about] people and how to be a leader.”
After navigating through and settling into her role as a first-year captain, Rodgers continued to lead as captain for the Owls during her sophomore campaign. However, the Chicago native was forced to once again step out of her comfort zone during her junior season when she transferred to Cactus Shadow High School in Scottsdale, Arizona -- an adjustment she said was a difficult one to make.
“The biggest thing for that was probably a culture shock,” Rodgers said. “The culture dynamic at each school was very different. If you know Arizona, you know [that] Avondale is completely different from Scottsdale. I was like, ‘Ok, I’ll focus on school and basketball, that’s pretty much it.’ I wasn’t expecting much out of everything else.”
Although she was forced to miss her entire junior season due to Arizona high school transfer rules, Rodgers’ fervent focus on basketball paid off in her lone season with the team, as she helped elevate the Falcons’ record from 14-15 to 27-5. She led them to the semi-final game of the AIA State Championships.
Rodgers said having a successful senior season after spending a year watching from the sidelines allowed her to be rewarded for the years of determination and commitment she put into the game.
Photos by Jake Ward
“It shows that work does pay off,” Rodgers said. “My junior year, sitting out, I remember feeling like I was behind because I wasn’t playing. I was just devastated. I felt like I was behind all these girls because I haven’t been getting that up-and-down playing in games. But it was really about trusting the process. As everybody says, as long as you continue to put in the work even when no one is there, on the days you don’t really feel like it, the days you’re not at your best. Just still getting in there and doing it, eventually it will pay off. It’s not going to happen overnight, but in the end, I saw it coming to fruition.”
Rodgers hadn’t garnered much attention from the collegiate ranks, having had initial conversations with just two schools. However, that changed in the summer of 2019 when Academy of Art women’s basketball coach Krystle Evans laid eyes on the young point guard at an AAU tournament in Las Vegas. Although Evans entered the gymnasium having already solidified that year’s recruiting class, she said watching Rodgers’ tenacity and leadership on the court forced her to reconsider that decision.
“There I was sitting [in the gym] like, ‘Oh my god, I said we were done with recruiting this class,’” Evans said. “We had a really strong class coming in, but it was something about Brooke’s ‘it factor’ that just stuck with me. Brooke was taking charges during the AAU season. She had multiple paint touches and kick-outs to find the open person. She’ll huddle up her team. She was just a natural leader.”
After keeping in touch with the then-senior point guard throughout her senior season and attending her state semifinal game in February 2020, Evans pulled the trigger and extended Rodgers an offer to play for her program, signing her to a national letter of intent on April 17.
“Being able to be there when she had some good moments and not so good moments, I was able to see her character in terms of how is she when things don’t necessarily go her way,” Evans said. “And I was sold. I was, at that point, willing to do whatever it took to get her.”
Entering her freshman season at Academy of Art University, Rodgers made sure Evans would not regret the decision.
Similar to the start of her high school career, the freshman point guard made her presence known for the Urban Knights, as she started every game and averaged 10 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.7 steals per game. Rodgers’ versatility during her freshman campaign earned her a spot on the All-PacWest Northern California Team.
While Rodgers quickly emerged as a star, the impact she made during her freshman campaign stretched far beyond the court.
At the start of the season, Rodgers’ created “Boogie’s Blog,” a series of writing pieces that chronicled the challenges student-athletes may face during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rodgers said writing five blog pieces throughout her freshman year helped her navigate through a difficult year filled with uncertainty and unfamiliarity, as she could express herself and articulate the many fears she experienced while entering school during the pandemic.
“COVID-19 has a lot going on of its own, so seeing that from an athlete's perspective, with all of the things we had to go through…I think writing about it helped me get through it.”
Rodgers points to one specific blog she wrote in December 2020, “Taking the Good with the Bad,” that she views as the most powerful and impactful piece. It centered around how the young freshman attempts to take a positive outlook on life no matter what obstacles are thrown her way.
“[San Francisco] had ended up being closed down, and we weren’t able to practice, so we were able to go home for the whole month of December,” Rodgers said. “At the time, that was devastating, because you really want to play. But the positive came out in being able to go home and be with my family in this time. Coach Krystle had told me to find the positives even with the negatives. It’s easy to find a negative in this situation with how life has been in this time with COVID-19, but you can always find something positive in everything if you really look for it.”
Rodgers’ unique perspective on life and basketball has helped her succeed as she embarks on her second season with the Urban Knights.
Starting every game so far this season, Rodgers is continuing to show she can excel on both ends of the court, averaging 9.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and almost 2 steals a contest.
However, it is not Rodgers’ stat line that has caught the eye of her head coach, but her growth as a leader. “When we got Brooke and when we were recruiting her, she always led by example. She was always the teammate that would put a smile on everyone’s face,” Evans said. “This year she took that leap into being more of a vocal leader and developing our incoming class in the summer. Brooke was inviting the incoming freshman to our house over the summer and having her work out with her. Brooke was the person who was that coach away from the coach.”
While Rodgers is emerging as the primary leader and one of the best players on her team, she is continuing to prove that she brings more to the table than just basketball. In the classroom, the second-year student is majoring in Writing for Film, Television, & Digital Media with hopes of becoming a screenwriter.
Rodgers has created a number of her own scripts during her time at ART U, most notably a “spec script” of the Netflix show “On My Block.” That process involved emulating the writing style of the show’s director and crafting a sample episode of the show. In addition to television screenwriting, Rodgers is also working on her first feature film. Titled “More Than a Game,” it profiles the journey of a student-athlete during the first year on campus.
Not only is the aspiring screenwriter expressing her creativity in the classroom, but she is also applying it to the world of social media.
On Tik Tok, Rodgers has quickly risen to fame with her choreographed dances and short skits, amassing more than 36,000 followers, with one video on her profile garnering 1.5 million views. Rodgers said she was caught off guard when she saw her one video rise to viral status, something she said her teammates couldn’t get enough of.
“I was just like, ‘Really?,’” Rodgers said. “It was just surprising. And then all my teammates would comment [on her Tik Tok], ‘You’re famous now.’ I remember they used to make a lot of jokes saying ‘Brooke’s famous.’ And I’m just like, ‘Guys, I’m not famous.’”
Tik Tok is not the only social media outlet on which Rodgers has gained traction. She has also co-founded the Youtube channel “Boogie and Bubba” with her team-and-backcourt mate Milan Tuttle. The channel takes a deep and comedic dive into their experiences on campus.
Tuttle said the content of the Youtube page, which includes on-the-street interviews in downtown San Francisco and other “day in the life” videos, represents the duo’s “goofy” friendship.
“Anytime we’re filming, we’ll always catch the goofy side of us that most people don’t see,” Tuttle said. “If you look at us from the outside looking in, we’re pretty normal. But when we’re in private, we’re the two goofiest people you’ll meet.” It all adds up to a significant imprint on the small San Francisco campus.
“Brooke is extremely focused, but still has fun,” Evans said. “She doesn’t take herself too serious. But she’s also a 3.8 [GPA] student-athlete. She’s never had a grade under a B-plus. I’m her academic coach, I meet with her weekly, and that’s a kid that is frustrated and panicking if she has under an ‘A’. And then she’ll go out and do a Tik Tok. And she’ll go out and have 10 points and 10 rebounds. You just marvel at the type of person she is. I can’t think of a better young lady. If you put all the ingredients in a bag, you hope there’s a Brooke.”
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