Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we will be previewing the ACC.
When Angel Rodriguez announced that he had decided to transfer out of the Kansas State program where he played his first two seasons of collegiate basketball, it came as no surprise that the all-Big 12 point guard wound up heading to Miami.
Rodriguez lived in Puerto Rico until he was a freshman in high school. His family then moved to Miami, where he developed under Shakey Rodriguez at Krop High School into the player that Frank Martin brought to Manhattan, Kansas, as the Wildcats’ point guard of the future. Moving to the flyover states meant that Rodriguez would be competing for Big 12 titles with programs like Kansas and Texas, but it also meant that he would be separated from everyone he held near and dear: his mom, his brothers, his girlfriend, all of his friends and family.
It wasn’t a state secret that homesickness is what made him a Hurricane, but it wasn’t just family that Rodriguez missed.
“Now I get to eat spanish food as often as I want,” Rodriguez told NBCSports.com in an interview earlier this month. “That’s a big thing for me.”
On Friday, Rodriguez will be taking the floor for the Hurricanes for the first time as Miami hosts Howard at the BankUnited Center. He’s spent the past week trying to figure out just how he’s got to accommodate all of the ticket requests that he’s getting from those close to him. “It’s going to be exciting to have people you love watching,” he said.
Rodriguez has already been in Coral Gables for a year and a half. He sat out the 2013-2014 season, the mandatory redshirt year that the NCAA requires for transfers, instead pursuing a waiver — one that was fairly attainable — that would have allowed him to be eligible immediately. The prevailing theory at the time was that this was strategically orchestrated by the Miami staff. After winning dual-ACC titles in 2013, the Hurricanes watched as six of their seven rotation players — including all-ACC point guard and current New York Knick Shane Larken — departed. Head coach Jim Larrañaga will disagree, but even with Rodriguez in the lineup last season, a return trip to the NCAA tournament was unlikely. Competing for the ACC title was probably a pipe dream.
So Rodriguez, along with fellow-transfer Sheldon McClellan and then-freshman Deandre Burnett, sat out. And while the end result was probably a best-case scenario for the long-term, the decision to forego a waiver was more the by-product of circumstance than it was a well-thought-out plan.
You see, Rodriguez played through a knee injury throughout his time at Kansas State. He wasn’t healthy when he got to Miami, and he didn’t want to waste a year of eligibility if he wasn’t going to be playing at 100%. “He’s a great competitor,” Larrañaga said. “He wanted to be at his best when the season rolled around. He did not feel like he was last year.”
What that meant was Rodriguez would become best friends with Miami’s trainer, working his way through rehab without having the pressure of knowing that he needed to be ready when November rolled around. According to Larrañaga, Rodriguez sat out most of last summer and didn’t even return to the court until sometime in the fall of 2013.
The season provided an opportunity for Rodriguez to practice with the team, to learn their system and figure out the way that the coaching staff wanted their point guards to operate. This was just one year after Larkin had been the ACC Player of the Year, so it was obvious that Larrañaga would put Rodriguez in a position to be successful.
But over the summer, Rodriguez suffered a setback. He called it an ankle injury. Larrañaga called it a “lower extremity injury”. Whatever it was, it was bad enough that Miami took their team trip to Spain without their starting point guard capable of playing.
“We didn’t want to take the chance again on him overdoing it,” Larrañaga said. “He’s not someone that knows how to give 75%. It’s all or nothing.” It was the right decision — you don’t risk injury to one of your team’s most important players in games that don’t matter — but it still was a disappointment for both the player and the program. Those foreign trips are great for team bonding, providing a cultural experience to the players on the roster and for allowing them to gauge just how good professional basketball is overseas. But it’s also an opportunity for a program to work out some kicks and to get a head start on figuring out things like role allocation, a rotation and how each individual is going to fit into the group.
In simpler terms, teams learn how to play together, and Rodriguez would not be a beneficiary.
As a result, the first time that Rodriguez would suit up with his Miami teammates would be during the fall, in scrimmages and exhibition games. By the time that the Hurricanes go to Gainesville to visit Florida, he’ll have played in all of one game and one exhibition with his new team.
So the experience may not be there just yet.
But Rodriguez isn’t worried. He’s ready to get back out on the court in whatever role the team needs him in.
“If one night they need me to score, I will,” he said. “But I know for sure that every night, I’m going to pay defense and play hard and try to impact the game in ways that doesn’t require scoring.”
And he’s happy he’s able to do it in a place where all of his loved ones can come see him play.
“I left to be close to my family,” he said, “and there’s not a closer school than Miami.”