PITTSBURGH — A little more than a year ago, Angel Rodriguez was in bed, too depressed to drag himself from his mattress. The pain from Kansas State’s NCAA-tournament loss to Wisconsin had hit Rodriguez, who at the time was a senior in high school in Florida.
“I didn’t have to be here playing with the team for me to feel a part of it,” Rodriguez said this week. “As soon as I committed and I signed, I felt like I was a part of it. So when they won, I enjoyed it like I won.
“But when they lost, I would feel terrible. Knowing they had a chance in that tournament to make a run — I had high expectations — I was disappointed that we lost.”
Rodriguez saw the tears shed by seniors Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly, who watched their college careers end on that March night in Tucson, Ariz. And while the 5-foot-11 point guard is still just a freshman here, this is important. Because being able to visualize that pain — seeing how much it hurt Pullen and Kelly is something Rodriguez will never forget. And it’s a feeling he doesn’t want any part of.
“That’s always going to be in my mind,” he said, recalling the moment K-State’s season ended last year. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to be scared to lose, but it’s always going to be in my mind, reminding me to give it my all because this might be the last chance you get.”
That final opportunity could come Thursday against Southern Mississippi, the Cats’ first opponent in the NCAA tournament. It could end on Saturday, or just maybe it could last all the way into the final week of March or early April.
The point being, there’s no telling how far a team is going to go this time of the year or how quickly it things can end, so players have to treat every game like it’s their last. Because starting tomorrow, harsh realities come into play for the Wildcats and others: One mistake —