CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Now that junior transfer Angel Rodriguez plays point guard for Miami instead of Kansas State, he does his grocery shopping unrecognized.
Rodriguez was a celebrity in Manhattan, Kansas, where he helped the Wildcats to the Big 12 co-championship in 2013. But the college town of 56,000 is a little different from Miami.
“It’s a very small town with barely anything to do, just basketball and school,” Rodriguez said.
“But there are great fans there, and wherever you go, they know who you are. Grocery shopping, they know you. The drive-through, they know you. You rent a movie, they know you. It’s great. It’s a real college experience.”
But Rodriguez wanted to be closer to his family in Puerto Rico, so he transferred to Miami, sat out last season and is now poised to start at point guard for a young, small but promising team. He walks across campus unnoticed, but that could change if his season goes the way the Hurricanes hope.
“Angel will be our floor general,” head coach Jim Larranaga said. “He has great leadership skills. He’s a very natural leader and commands a lot of respect from his teammates.”
Rodriguez will be the most experienced player on a team with only three players who have played previously for the Hurricanes — and one of them will miss the start of the season with an injury.
Miami has been rebuilding since the end of the 2012-13 season, when the top six players on their Atlantic Coast Conference championship team were seniors. They went 17-16 last season, 7-11 in league play and six players from that team have departed.
There are no seniors on this season’s roster, and only three front-court players.
“They’re all back next year,” Larranaga said Thursday at media day. “So whatever we do this year will be the foundation for what we’ve been building for. But right now, everything is new.”
Rodriguez is happy to be part of that new foundation, and he’s especially eager to play after sitting out a year.
“The time has gone slowly, but it has been really productive,” he said. “I put in a lot of work in the weight room and training room. I’m going to be more athletic.”
Rodriguez, 5-foot-11, 178-pounds, became a starter midway through his freshman season at Kansas State. As a sophomore he averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists and made 55 3-pointers to help the Wildcats win a share of the league title. He was selected to the All-Big 12 second team and the All-Big 12 defensive team.
He also became fluent in English.
“In high school I knew enough English to survive, to get into college, to be on my own and order food and talk to coaches and friends a little bit,” he said. “But in Manhattan, Kansas, obviously nobody spoke Spanish. I was forced to learn English. My teammates helped — I used to mess up a lot, and they would laugh. I told them I didn’t mind as long as they would help me after they laughed.”
Despite the friendships Rodriguez developed in Kansas, he felt the tug of family. He was born in San Juan and lived there until he was 15 when he came to Miami to play high school basketball.
His brothers, ages 15 and 9, are both basketball players in San Juan. They and their mother will now be able to watch Rodriguez play in person for the first time since he left Puerto Rico.
“That’s the main reason I came back to Miami,” he said. “College only happens once, and I have two years left. They’re going to get to see me in person and that’s special to me.”
The Hurricanes can use their support. Unlike at Kansas State, attendance is a persistent problem for Miami in an area with an abundance of beaches, and teams in all four professional sports.
“It’s a challenge and a goal to bring a crowd wearing orange shirts to our arena,” Rodriguez said. “I know there’s other stuff to do in Miami, but if we win, we’re going to bring people in.