Calling on Angel

17 Feb

AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

Against the University of Kansas, freshman guard Angel Rodriguez played his worst game. Not just the worst game of his career, but the worst game of his whole entire life. In what was his ninth straight start of the season, he did not score, and he turned the ball over seven times.

Coach Frank Martin thinks of a young Jacob Pullen and recalls a scenario that was not so different. But few others do.

“We all remember the final product with Jacob,” Martin said. “There were a lot of bumps early, but the reason I never quit on him was because he never quit on himself, and that’s what you look for as a coach.”

Playing against the likes of Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor, Oklahoma State’s Keiton Page and many other talented guards in the Big 12 conference, Rodriguez has learned the college game with a slim margin for error.

“There’s no forgiveness in this league,” Martin said. “It makes you grow up.”

Since Rodriguez cracked the starting lineup a few weeks ago, he is averaging 8.8 points and a team-leading 3.3 assists in 21.4 minutes per game. In four of the nine games he started, he scored in double figures. At times, his willingness to go aggressively to the basket breathed life into the Wildcats, and in other situations, it hurt them.

As Rodriguez sat along at the media table on Thursday night, his brown eyes still looked haunted at the mention of that most recent game. He watched it over and over and over in the film room, and when he talked about it to reporters, it seemed as if he reviewed the plays in his head yet again, trying to pinpoint what had gone wrong. In the second half against Kansas, he played much better than he did in the first 20 minutes. Trying to tell him that, though, is a lost cause.

“To be honest, when I think about the KU, all I think is negative stuff,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t get any positive thing about that game, so all I’m taking is the negative stuff and trying to make it into a positive for the next couple games we have.”

The way Rodriguez continued to work to improve in practice after his uncharacteristic performance against Kansas encouraged his coach.

“He isn’t going away,” Martin said. “Like all freshman, he’s had some moments where he’s had some mental lapses and he’s gotten frustrated and hasn’t handled things, but that’s between he and I. There’s no quit in him. That’s not who he is. He didn’t come out here to quit after a bad day or a bad game. He’s going to keep fighting.”

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