As the curtain rises on the 37th season of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball, Wake Forest's Rodney Rogers stands atop the list of marquee freshmen.
That is not a misprint, even in a league where North Carolina's Dean Smith was said to have recruited a national championship team in waiting and Duke's Grant Hill is thought to be one of the most versatile players to enter the ACC in years.
Yet, it was Rogers -- whose Demon Deacons (5-2) will host Maryland (6-3) tonight in the conference opener -- who was named preseason Rookie of the Year over Hill and North Carolina's Eric Montross and Clifford Rozier, in a vote of ACC writers and broadcasters.
"I really wasn't looking for anything like that," Rogers said this week. "To see people vote for me over other freshmen in a tough conference like this is something to think about.
"Sometimes I start slow, but I do what I can, but not because of this ACC Rookie of the Year stuff."
The preseason award shouldn't have been a total surprise. Rogers, a 6-foot-7, 235-pound native of Durham, N.C., was named to virtually everyone's high school All-America team off a senior season at Hillside High that saw him average 28.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game, in addition to being named North Carolina Player of the Year.
So far, Rogers is living up to all the accolades. His 17.1 per game scoring average is second on the team behind Chris King and he is shooting 53.5 percent from the floor. He leads the Deacons in rebounding with seven a game and has already demonstrated that he is a force inside.
Rogers, who is soft-spoken but confident, has shown versatility as well. He leads the Wake front-line players in both three-point attempts and successful shots, and he is hitting 46 percent of his bonus tries.
"I can play the three [small forward slot], but I'd rather stay inside and give the other guys a chance," said Rogers.
Rogers battled to get into college. He made the necessary 700 score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test on his fourth try, so he is able to play as a freshman under Proposition 48.
But he has already become one of the most popular Deacon players, with five slam dunks in his first college game, including an impressive 360-degree slam. And he is a pleasant influence on his teammates.
"He has been surprising in that he has had much more substance that I thought he had," said Wake coach Dave Odom. "He is a caring person and he makes people care about him."