MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Those wanting some perspective on the athletic exploits of Panama City’s Mike Vogler need to come armed with a few thread-worn truths.
Vogler, now 25, qualifies in the most complimentary sense as a genetic freak, possessing hand-eye coordination that by comparison relegates the rest of us to some roadside sobriety test.
The Bay graduate comes by this honestly as Ralph and Lisa Vogler bred most of an infield or a foursome of children who could distinguish themselves in any game that involved a ball.
Sprinkle in the joy of competition and the willingness to devote time and energy into excelling and indeed the Voglers are a gifted bunch. All four children have played college sports, the girls — Natalie, Kat and Emily — softball and soccer.
Mike Vogler’s story takes the fork in the road less traveled, however, because it seems that Bay County mostly was an incubator for his athletic talents.
Just about everything he has achieved in sports at a level where few can boast, such as becoming the career assist leader in men’s basketball at Troy University or his current status as an all-star guard for the South Carolina Warriors in the semi-pro American Basketball Association was accomplished elsewhere.
More startling is that Vogler’s current ambition belies those feats.
He said last week that what he wants most is to pursue a career as a PGA touring pro. Vogler said so with sincerity and humility.
Mike Vogler is well aware that a Las Vegas tout would have provided shorter odds had he said astronaut, ambassador to Borneo or The Most Interesting Man in the World. Yet bolstered by successes he’s already piled high against sometimes limited probability, for the moment he remains undeterred.
“People say don’t have regrets. I think I would have regrets” if not chasing the dream of professional golf, Vogler said.
“I don’t have any regrets in basketball. It’s taken me all over the country. I’ve been to Europe three times. I think I’m a little burned out on it.”
Last time around
Vogler basically traded two years of basketball brilliance, his junior and senior years at Troy, for the six years it took him to get there.
His time spent in Bay High School programs underscores his versatility. Vogler played golf all four years, devoted spring to baseball as a freshman and sophomore, then was a standout tennis player as a junior and as a senior shunned them both to concentrate on basketball.
Vogler was a member of Bay’s only Final Four team in boys basketball, but was not recruited out of high school.
“I think that was a blessing in disguise,” he said. “Rob Williams was my coach at Bay and by then was an assistant at Chipola.”
Vogler said he basically got the last roster spot available and was able to go head to head with some of the amazing talent Chipola had recruited to be able to compete on a national level.
“It was a blessing having great players, great coaches … I grew at Chipola,” said Vogler, who noted that Indians coach Greg Heiar currently is an assistant at Wichita State which recently was ranked in the Top 20.
Acclaim finally came his way when Vogler moved on to Troy, then known as Troy State. He was third team all-Sun Belt Conference as a junior while also averaging 10.4 points, then second team as a senior when he averaged 12.0 and the Trojans won 20 games and played in the NIT.
Vogler graduated in May 2010 with a degree in social science and his athletic career took another abrupt turn. This time down a dead-end road.
“I went overseas in August to Lithuania” to try out for a team in one of the many European leagues, Vogler said. “I wasn’t there a week and got cut. So the next year I didn’t do anything.”
He stayed in shape by playing a lot of pick-up basketball, got a job and lived here with Si Clemo, a friend from high school trying to forge a career in professional golf.
That’s when Vogler got a call from Chris Beard, who was coaching the South Carolina Warriors of the American Basketball Association, which only in name resembles the ABA that formed in the late 1960s and introduced the 3-point line to basketball before merging with the established NBA.
To show how the network in basketball can spin, Beard was an assistant at Texas Tech under Bob Knight. While recruiting the Panhandle he created a relationship with Gulf Coast head coach Jay Powell, who sent some of his top players on to Texas Tech.
“He (Beard) asked him (Powell) if he knew of any available point guards, he needed a guard,” Vogler said. “I know Coach Powell and have a relationship with him as well.
“He said, ‘actually there’s one here in Panama City.’”
The current ABA boasts anywhere from 50-75 teams depending on which website one visits. Because a franchise can be obtained for $10,000, Vogler said that not all teams field a quality product.
“There are a lot of ex-Division I players. … It’s weird, five or 10 teams in this league are pretty good and have a legitimate team. Honestly, the rest of the teams aren’t very good, they might have five or six players. It’s almost like a rec team that still wants to play competitive basketball.
“Some teams, like Jacksonville and us, recruit ex-DI or guys who played overseas. They treat us really well.”
Vogler said his plan entering his first season with the Warriors was to use them as a stepping stone to return overseas. Vogler’s team was unbeaten entering the league best 2-of-3 championship series and he was an all-star, but contact never came.
“After last year I figured my career was over,” Vogler said. “I was ready to move on. I was getting ready to turn 25 and kind of burned out.
“If I hadn’t made it by now it was time to move on with my life, to get the next chapter started.”
John Kefalas, a former assistant who was succeeding Beard as the Warriors head coach began calling Vogler last summer.
“I told him I hadn’t picked up a basketball, but he offered me a pretty good amount of money,” Vogler said. “He wanted me to help him coach, to play when I wanted to play.
“He talked me into it. He also hooked me up with free golf.”
The last carrot may have put Kefalas’ offer over the top. The Myrtle Beach area in South Carolina basically is to golf what Lake Superior in January is to pond hockey. The tourist brochure trumpets 120 golf courses in the area.
Vogler said he lives in Myrtle Woods Villas which is a resort area with two golf courses.
“This definitely will be it,” he said of basketball, but it’s not as if he’s limping off into the twilight. The Warriors were 15-1 at the time of this interview, and Vogler only recently produced a near quadruple double in one game with 26 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds and nine steals. He also was a repeat selection as an all-star.
“It’s more laid back,” Vogler said. “I do know it’s my last year … even in college I could be really hard on myself if I knew I was not playing to my own standards. I’m a very competitive person.”
Vogler said that he sets up Warriors’ practices during the week along with a 22-year-old assistant coach. Kefalas is there to supervise, Vogler said, and takes over coaching duties during games.
Getting into coaching is another option, Vogler said, when the ABA season ends in April.
“It’s a consideration, one of the reasons I decided to come back. I knew when I was done playing I could see the other side of it, see if I liked it.
“There are times when I see myself coaching and days when I’m not sure. I haven’t really decided.”
The dilemma confronting Vogler could swing on one simple issue that in its innocence actually is the sledgehammer that athletes of all stripes must someday face — when to quit, when to continue playing.
“I’ve always wanted to be a professional athlete,” tilts the debate in the direction of golf. “I know about the sponsorships and the financial end. I just really enjoy playing. I enjoy practicing golf.
“Si Clemo is one of my best friends and has played competitively; he’s playing on the Hooters Tour out of Orlando. I know what it takes to play at a pro level. I don’t mind working. I’ve been working hard all my life.”
Vogler said that when he leaves Myrtle Beach in the spring his options might be better defined.
Then again, it could be like his athletic choices during his senior year of high school.
“I’ve learned not to plan,” he said. “I mean, you have to have a plan and a goal, but it always doesn’t work out like you planned.
“Everything happens for a reason. I was 100 percent sure I wasn’t coming back (this season) but here I am. Playing golf and basketball.”