Frank says he’s as tough as nails and that’s readily apparent.
At the worldly age of 19, in the winter of 2012, Angel Daniel Rodriguez is the sum total of his parts.
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, high school ball in Miami. Now Angel’s in Manhattan, Kansas and plays D-1 college basketball with an exactness and perfection that falls short.
Rick Pitino wanted him. So did Billy Donovan. But Angel chose Frank Martin and Kansas State University. He plays his game in the middle of the country and brings a will to win as big as the Flint Hills that surround his new home.
A will to win that tends to crowd out everything else.
At 19, it’s all too easy for those who don’t know you to mistake confidence for cockiness. John Eldredge wrote that aggression is part of the masculine design. We are hard-wired for it.
You see flashes of brilliance. The no-look pass. The timing and precision of an alley-oop lob. The drained three.
And then you see stretches of mediocrity, The silly fouls and errant passes. Sometimes it seems Angel plays the game just a few degrees out of caliber.
My wife roots for Angel but has concerns. I urge patience (there’s a role reversal). I tell her she’ll weep on Angel’s Senior Night in 2015. Who am I kidding? So will I.
He will put it all together. The sum total will increase.
How young Angel Rodriguez reacts to the wounds, the rough patches, the injustices he will suffer later in his life are being molded today on the hardwoods of Fred Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
In the arena, there’s so much pressure on these guys. It’s palpable. From where we sit, we can see it. And when they don’t measure up, their confidence suffers and they internalize it.
Somewhere in that all-too-short window from the day you arrive on campus from Miami, Maywood, Illinois or Washington, D.C., what’s hard-wired into your heart finds its way to your head and becomes knowledge and experience.
You find the delicate balance between trusting your own ability and being accountable to your teammates.
I remember a young Jake Pullen bounding on to the court as a freshman. All elbows, dreds and ambition. Four years later, he left as K-State’s all-time scoring leader.
And as a leader.
From my perch in the Octagon of Doom, this is not vicarious living. But I will admit to a backward glance over my shoulder as the precipice looms ever-nearer. The game sharpens my awareness, gets me out of myself and heightens my personal responsibility to the next generation.
Keep shooting, Angel. Keep launching three’s. Keep lobbing the alley-oop passes.
Trust Jamar and Rodney. Listen to Victor.
Have faith in yourself and your teammates.
Keep charging the lane.