SE: Rodriguez Proud of Puerto Rican Heritage

Angel Rodriguez

Dec. 22, 2011

By Mark Janssen
K-State Sports Extra

Angel Rodriguez gives a simple answer of "zero" when asked how much English he knew when he arrived in Miami, Fla., from his native home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, nearly four years ago as a 15-year-old.

"Zero ... zero," he emphasized. "I came not knowing one word, but I really wanted to learn because I wanted to have conversations."

Today, the Wildcat freshman is as fluent with the English language as he is with a basketball in hand, which was always the intention.

"Home (San Juan) is not the place for you to stay focused. There are a lot of distractions," said Rodriguez. "I needed to come to a place where I could focus and that's here at K-State playing for (Coach) Frank (Martin)."

While he wanted to leave his native country, it's also a background that he carries with him today with great pride. Initially listed as being from Miami, Fla., in K-State media material, he requested that all future mention would list his home as being San Juan.

"I have a lot of pride. I lived in Miami only three years, while I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I know what it is like to be Puerto Rican and I have family in Puerto Rico," said Rodriguez, who has a Puerto Rican flag in his apartment and lists native hip-hop/rap artist Kendo Kaponi as being featured in his iPod. "It makes me feel good and my family will be proud."

Rodriguez moved to Miami on the urging of his cousin, Javi Gonzalez, who played three seasons of basketball at North Carolina State ending in 2010. After the move, he lived with his uncle and played at Miami's Krop High School, which is also the alma mater of Luis Colon, another native of Puerto Rico and ex-Wildcat.

"Javi saw me in a tournament and told me that I could leave and have a future in basketball," said Rodriguez. "I wanted to be successful in basketball."

Being the oldest son of Jacqueline Tricoche, Rodriguez admits that tears flowed in discussing the possible move with his mother.

"She said she didn't want me to go, but that she loved me so much she was going to let me go. She understood it was necessary to have success," said Rodriguez. "She cried, but in the end she was happy and proud of what I was doing."

Tricoche has yet to see her son play as a Wildcat, and only saw one game in person while he was at Krop High School, where he would be ranked the No. 4 prospect in the state by FloridaHoops.com. It was at Krop that he was coached by Marcos "Shakey" Rodriguez, who also coached Martin when he was in high school.

Of that tie, Rodriguez said, "He (Shakey) told me everything to expect. He said that you're going to get yelled out when you don't do the right thing and he told me how much effort it requires to play defense for Frank. He stressed how you have to stay positive and be mentally strong. If you're not mentally strong, you can't play for Frank. He expects 100 percent every day. If you're not willing to do that, you're going to be in trouble."

Like with players coming from the inner-city, Martin said of the background of Rodriguez, "With that ball, you can go see the world and find success rather than hatred. I wish more people would understand that. We tell them, `Don't let the ball use you. You learn to use the ball. Learn to use the ball and make a lot out of it. If the ball uses you, you'll have a short, short career.'

"He wants to use a basketball to show him the world. He really wanted to play basketball, but understood that he needed better competition and better coaching," said Martin. "Had he not made that decision to leave home, who knows what he would be doing right now."

Recruited by the likes of Louisville, Florida and N.C. State, Rodriguez selected K-State where he has become an immediate factor for the Wildcats (7-1). He plays over 18 minutes per game averaging 5.5 points and nearly three assists. He's coming off his finest game as he played 26 minutes off the bench against Alabama scoring a career high of 13 points with seven assists and a steal in K-State's 71-58 victory over the No. 21 Crimson Tide.

While struggling with his shot at under 25 percent from the field, Rodriguez says his biggest adjustment has been at the other end of the floor.

"I have never played the kind of defense coach wants us to play. It was hard at the beginning. It requires a lot of effort. For every single play, you have to be up the line denying the ball and doing a lot of things. If you do not come mentally prepared you are not going to be able to do it," said Rodriguez. He added, "Every time you play good defense it helps you on the offensive side. Even if I make a bad defensive play I try not to make a bad offensive play."

Martin says part of the delayed development of his point guard was due to a bone spur in his knee during his senior year. Opting to delay the surgery until after the season, Rodriguez only played in games, but didn't practice during the entire season.

To some, Rodriguez is viewed as trying to become the next Denis Clemente. But to that Martin says, "They are different. They look alike, but it stops there. Denis was more of an open court, speed player. Angel is more of a crafty player who understands angles and instinctively relies on his jump shot."

For now, Rodriguez plays his game, and tries to improve on it as was demonstrated against Alabama last Saturday: "I am expecting to come off the bench, bring a lot of energy and just do whatever I can do to help win the game."

PLAYING IN HAWAI'I: K-State begins play in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic today at 3:30 p.m. against Southern Illinois (3-5). Friday the Wildcats will play against Clemson (6-4) or UTEP (4-5) at either 2:00 or 4:00, and Sunday against Auburn, Hawai'i, Long Beach State or Xavier. The first two games will be televised by ESPNU.

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