Frank Martin was the reason why Angel Rodriguez elected to play college basketball at Kansas State. And Bruce Weber is the reason the sophomore-to-be stayed following Martin’s departure to South Carolina.
“I’m loving everything about this new coaching staff,” Rodriguez said on Tuesday. “They’re nice people and I like the system. It just seems like we’re going to enjoy playing for Coach Bruce and his people.”
That’s not to say he didn’t enjoy playing for Martin.
“They’re different types of coaches,” he said. “Coach Frank is a little bit more aggressive. They both have different philosophies and they both do good things. But I think Coach (Weber) will be more flexible in terms of letting us play a little bit more.”
As happy as Rodriguez is now, there were moments when he wavered on whether to leave or remain at K-State in the days after Martin left.
“It was something I had to think about and talk to my mom and my people about,” he said. “It wasn’t something I was just going to decide right away so it did take me a little bit of time. But at the end of the day I’m just trying to make the best decision for myself and my family. We decided that Bruce was a nice person and he deserves a chance. That’s why I decided to stay.”
Weber’s past success with guards played a role as well. While at Illinois, Weber coached All-American guards Dee Brown and Deron Williams. Another deciding factor was the fact that the Wildcats return everyone except Jamar Samuels and Victor Ojeleye from last year’s team.
“It wasn’t the first thing but it was definitely on my mind,” said Rodriguez, who averaged 8.3 points and led K-State with 101 assists last season. “It definitely feels great to have all of us back. It’s pretty much like the same team as last year other than the new guys but I’m sure they’ll be fine just like I was last year.”
Rodriguez’s decision to remain at K-State is critical to the Wildcats’ future, because sophomore point guards with his kind of experience are a rarity. The Puerto Rican native started 17 games last season, 14 of which occurred during Big 12 play.
He showed flashes of brilliance and made mistakes that reminded everyone he was just a freshman. He committed turnovers that would frustrate both his coaches and K-State fans, yet 30 seconds later, he would dazzle the crowd with a spectacular pass or a drive to the basket.
Now the goal is to become more consistent, something Rodriguez is striving for this offseason. He took part in workouts on Tuesday, one of his first opportunities to get back on the court since the season ended.
Late in the Wildcats’ season-ending loss to Syracuse in the NCAA tournament, Rodriguez tore a tendon in his thumb when attempting to foul Scoop Jardine.
“It has to do with the tendon that gives my thumb stability,” Rodriguez said. “So when I tried to pass the ball my thumb had no stability whatsoever.”
He underwent surgery on the thumb three weeks after the season concluded, and just recently had the cast removed.
“It’s kind of stiff,” he said. “When I was working out it felt pretty good. I’m not allowed to catch the ball or pass it yet but shooting or dribbling I don’t have a problem with. I’ll be good.”
K-State expects to be good this season as well, due in large part to Rodriguez returning. Martin, the man responsible for bringing the point guard to K-State, now coaches more than 1,000 miles away from Manhattan. The good news for K-State fans is Rodriguez didn’t travel that path with him.
“I told Frank I’ll never be mad at you, you have to do what’s best for you — what you think is best for you and your family,” Rodriguez said. “But I also I have to think about myself and as much as I love him, I just didn’t want to sit out a year. Everything was looking good here so there was really no reason for me to leave without giving Coach Bruce a chance.”
A chance Weber is grateful for.