Ángel Rodríguez left his hometown of Cupey, Puerto Rico, at the age of 15 to make his own American dream and play ball in Miami. After losing his father to gang violence when he was only two years old, he managed to escape a dangerous cycle with the help of his cousin, former North Carolina State guard Javier Gonzalez, and transition to a collegiate career at Kansas State University. “I was fortunate enough that I had my cousin [Javi Gonzalez] who actually played for NC State. He went to high school in Miami and in the off season he went to see me play and he liked how I played and asked me if I wanted to go to the U.S.,” he told Hurricane Sports.
When asked about his father’s death and how it shaped his childhood in Puerto Rico, Rodríguez told ESPN that he tries to “focus on the positive things.”
“They killed [my father] in Puerto Rico when I was two years old. It was a planned attack in the middle of the street … My mom and the rest of my family always told me that he was a great father and that I was his whole life. I want to be that kind of dad and be an example by turning away from the streets and the kind of things that cost my dad and friends of mine their lives.”
Turning away from the streets eventually translated into moving to mainland USA for Rodríguez, then a teenager flying solo in pursuit of a better future. “I told [my mother] I had a unique opportunity that may not ever come again,” he recalled. “I knew I was young and that it would not be easy, but I needed my mom to think about my future and my goals.”
“Everyone is short in Puerto Rico; the tallest guy is 6’2” at most.”
At first, she was against the idea. “My mom was really scared to see me go to mainland USA because it wasn’t like she could just drive for a bit to visit – she wouldn’t be in my daily life if I did … [my grandparents] convinced her to let me go … They didn’t want to blame themselves for not letting me go to the U.S. if I failed or made bad decisions just like many friends of mine who ended up dead.”
Upon touching down in Miami, Rodríguez realized that there were some drastic differences on the court in comparison to his Caribbean island career. “Everyone is short in Puerto Rico; the tallest guy is 6’2” at most,” he explained. “All of the sudden I’m routinely facing opponents who are 6’8” and 6’10” and these guys would block my shots all the time. It was very frustrating. I learned to take what the defense gave me.”
Rodríguez was quick to realize that something was missing upon starting his collegiate career at Kansas State. “I had a hard time adapting to the culture and the fact that Kansas was nothing like Puerto Rico or Miami. The snow and the bitter cold wouldn’t allow me to clear my head. Sometimes I thought, ‘What am I doing here? Is all of this worth it?’ You think about all that when you are alone and being negative.”
So, he did the only thing that seemed reasonable and right at the time: he moved back to Miami to play for Jim Larrañaga’s University of Miami Hurricanes. Since transferring, he has recorded consistent stats across the board. In his senior season, he’s averaged 11 points and four assists per contest en route to a No. 3 seed in the South. He’s a self defined “warrior, 100 percent,” with “contagious” energy on the defensive end.
Rodríguez’s post-college future might take him across the pond to play ball in Europe, but for now his goal is NCAA glory. For a guy who’s already achieved so much at such a young age, it isn’t totally out of the question.
When asked what he would say to people who have the same dreams as he did, Rodríguez spoke specifically to Latinos who were not born or raised in mainland USA; “My most important message, especially for the Latinos like me that weren’t born or raised here in the U.S., is for them to know that bigger and better opportunities do exist. I would say that whether you have an opportunity like mine or not, there is always a way to achieve your goals. It’s easier to give up and get out of the way, I know, but you have to be a warrior and stay strong to achieve your dreams.”