KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The final image that Kansas State fans will have of Angel Rodriguez in a Wildcat uniform will be an air ball at the buzzer in an NCAA tournament game against La Salle that could have prevented a massive upset loss.
The Wildcats’ starting point guard said Monday that he wants to transfer closer to his mother and two younger brothers, who still live in his native Puerto Rico.
Rodriguez was recruited to Kansas State by former coach Frank Martin, but was convinced to stay when Bruce Weber took over the program. He played through injuries most of last season, helping the Wildcats win a share of a conference championship for the first time in 36 years.
Rodriguez did not indicate where he plans to transfer.
“It is important that everyone understands this was a really difficult decision,” he said. “This decision was based entirely on my family and has nothing do with Kansas State, basketball or the coaching staff. It’s unfortunate after the year we just had, but I just feel right now this is the best thing for me and my family.
“Whether it is the right choice or not, family has and always will be first with me.”
Rodriguez started most of his freshman year, and in 33 of the 35 games this past season, when he helped Kansas State finish 27-8 and earn a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.
He’s averaged nearly 10 points and five assists for his career, and will have two seasons of eligibility and a redshirt year still remaining.
“Angel really had a great season for us and has emerged as one of the top point guards in the country,” Weber said in a statement. “His personal improvement this past year was obviously a big factor in our run to the Big 12 title.”
Rodriguez left Puerto Rico about five years ago to pursue basketball — and a better education — at Miami’s Dr. Krop High School. But his mother, Jacqueline Tricoche, had to stay behind to care for his two younger brothers, Luis Rivera and Daniel Rivera.
Angelito, as he’s called, fielded several scholarship offers but chose Kansas State in part because of Martin’s connection with Miami and Rodriguez’s AAU coach, Shakey Rodriguez.
Trioche never saw her son play as a freshman, but she made a trip to Kansas State in January and got to see him star in a win over Texas. Rodriguez smiled in a hallway under Bramlage Coliseum after that game, recalling how his mother had seen snow for the first time just that morning.
“It was the right decision to come here,” Rodriguez said, “and I don’t regret it all. Coach Weber and his staff made the transition a lot easier than I ever thought it would be. He made me a better player and to play with more confidence.
“I never thought I would get this close to my teammates,” he added. “The past few days have been difficult for me, just thinking how this decision would impact them. However, at the end of the day, I have do what I think is best for my mom and my brothers.”
Kansas State is already losing leading scorer Rodney McGruder and 7-footer Jordan Henriquez to graduation, which means Rodriguez’s loss creates another gaping void in the starting lineup.
The Wildcats already have signed a point guard in next year’s recruiting class in Jevon Thomas out of St. John’s Northwest Military Academy in Wisconsin. They also have a commitment from Nigel Johnson, a point guard from Riverdale Baptist in Upper Marlboro, Md.
“After multiple conversations, Angel feels an obligation to be closer to his family,” Weber said. “Just like the loss of our seniors, this will be another opportunity for someone to step up.”