Friends never doubted that Marshall Rogers would make his dream come true and become a basketball star.
Talented and hard-working, he became a high school All-America guard at Sumner High School in 1970-71. He led the country in scoring his senior year of college then got drafted by an NBA team.
Then the dream faded as illness overwhelmed him. He couldn't find work. He ended his days in a wheelchair at a nursing home in north St. Louis County, with both legs amputated and clutching the scrapbooks he had kept of "Marshall-O," the star he had been.
He died June 15. He was 57.
Although he liked remembering old times, Rogers never liked to talk about what might have been had he stayed longer in the NBA, or kept his health.
"It never got him down. He didn't want people feeling sorry. His spirits were always up," said a cousin, the Rev. George Hines, assistant pastor at Greater Christland Church. "He was truly just thankful he was alive."
Hines presided over Rogers' memorial service Saturday, which drew 70 friends and family to the Hoffmeister South County Chapel in Lemay.
Rogers' family said he had refused since last year to undergo the kidney dialysis treatment doctors said he needed.
After losing his legs, he decided "he was just going to live out his time," said his younger sister, Sharon Rogers-Gaston.
"His legs were his life," she explained. "To look down and see that he couldn't put tennis shoes on again, that was the most horrible thing in the world."
Marshall Lee Rogers was the second-youngest of nine children. Their father was a foreman at the National Lead factory in south St. Louis County. They lived in the 4400 block of Evans Street, near Newstead Avenue.
Each Christmas, Marshall's parents gave him a new basketball. He started playing when he was 2 or 3.
"He played about 24 hours a day," recalled his older sister, Jeanette Douglas. "That's all he ever did."
Not quite. He was smart and came home with A's on his report cards.
That was at Sumner High. He was moved to the varsity squad as a freshman.
"He was tremendous. He had the body for it, the basketball savvy and the IQ," said teammate Travis Brown, now director of athletics for the St. Louis Public Schools.
Friends said it was a golden time to be young and a basketball player in St. Louis. Rogers would hang out at a court on Newstead. Boxers Michael and Leon Spinks would drop by. "We drew the best players in the city," Hines said.
Rogers drilled constantly, often on his own. Said Brown, "He was determined to make it to the NBA."
The 1968-69 Sumner Bulldogs were among the most talented basketball teams in St. Louis history and won the Missouri Class L championship.
Rogers led Sumner to Public High League titles the next two seasons. He averaged 26.4 points per game as a senior.
Rogers got a scholarship to play at the University of Kansas, but he and the coach didn't get along, and he left after his freshman year.
"Marshall wanted to be the man. And it just didn't work out for him up there," said Sumner teammate Craig Arnold.
Rogers transferred and played two extraordinary seasons at Pan American University (now the University of Texas-Pan American) in Edinburg, Texas. Running and gunning, he was the country's ninth-leading scorer in 1974-75. As a senior the next year, he was the top scorer in NCAA Division I.
That was good enough to catch the eye of Oakland's Golden State Warriors, which picked him in the second round of the 1976 NBA draft.
He didn't stay long in the NBA: 23 games, averaging 3.8 points per game.
Rogers and his wife, whom he had married in St. Louis after graduating from high school, stayed in California for more than a year before heading back to St. Louis, driving a lavender Lincoln Continental with "Marshall-O" on the licence plate.
Back home, he worked as a substitute history teacher in the St. Louis schools and later started a lawn care business.
Family members said he urged children to stay in school. At the memorial service Saturday, Robert Rogers remembered being surprised when his uncle appeared one day to teach his elementary school class.
"After school, he took me aside and said, 'Who's the smartest kid in your class?' said Robert Rogers, who mentioned two other boys.
"The next time I see you, I want you to be the smartest boy," his uncle replied. "From then on, every time I'd see him, he'd ask, 'Who's the smartest kid in your class?' right up until I was in law school." Robert Rogers got his law degree and lives in Kansas City.
Marshall Rogers did some informal coaching in city parks and sometimes drove to the University of Missouri-Columbia and gave players tips on their shooting technique.
He started to get ill. He had high blood pressure but wouldn't take his medicine, his family recalled. Next he was diagnosed with diabetes.
Friends noticed a change in his behavior. In the midst of conversations, he became incoherent. "At other times, he'd be perfectly fine," said Arnold, a former airline employee now living in Dallas.
"Something happened to his mind," said older sister Douglas.
OUT OF WORK
In 1987, Rogers was arrested on suspicion of assault and shoplifting after police said he fought with personnel at a downtown Walgreens store.
Rogers told officers he had been out of work for three years. He was divorced and living with his mother.
He gained weight, and at an alumni basketball game about 10 years ago, "He was barely able to get up and down the court," Arnold recalled.
His diabetes worsened, and about five years ago, doctors amputated both legs below the knees.
In 2006, his family checked him into the Heritage Care Center, a nursing home in Berkeley. Rogers got around in a wheelchair and never lost his love for basketball. When he couldn't watch his favorite game, friends recorded it, and he often watched it days later on his VCR.
Marvin Ware, another Sumner teammate and a retired state welfare worker, visited his friend every few weeks and kept his hair trimmed. In recent months, "He couldn't talk and would write down what he wanted," Ware said.
Rogers' most precious possession was a scrapbook of his achievements. "He kept that with him at all times, even in his wheelchair," Ware said.
Some friends said they wished they had kept in touch with Rogers after he went to the nursing home.
"Knowing what he used to be," Arnold said, "I just didn't want to see him in a wheelchair with both legs gone."
In addition to his two sisters, both of Jennings, the survivors include two daughters, Marsha Edwards of Arlington, Texas, and Goldie Thompson of Tulsa, Okla.; a brother, Charles Rogers of Florissant; and four grandchildren.
-- Jim Gallagher and Mike Smith of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.