Miami’s Angel


Sheldon McClellan and Tonye Jekiri deservedly received ACC honors but once again, the guy who’s the key to Miami’s deep runs in the ACC and NCAA tournaments is point guard Angel Rodriguez. The Hurricanes may not get that coveted No. 1 seed but they’re strongly in the running for No. 2 after gaining a measure of revenge and beating Virginia Tech 88-82 on Thursday night. Next up is Virginia tonight.

The ACC honored McClellan, ranked the second-most efficient offensive player in the ACC and the 20th-most efficient offensive player in NCAA, according to; and Jekiri, who, when he’s on the floor, ACC opponents score 16 point less per game.

Their coach, Jim Larrañaga, has been voted the ACC’s Coach of the Year. Larrañaga told his team before the game it won’t be out hustled and out rebounded like it was the last time against the Hokies. Rodriguez led the way. When Virginia Tech was within six, Rodriguez nailed a 3-pointers, then picked up a loose ball and drove for a layup to put Miami up by 11.

For Rodriguez, it’s been a return to his second home. The Puerto Rico native came to Miami at age 15 despite deep concerns by his close-knit family. There he met Frank Martin, who he later followed to Kansas State. While one-fourth of Florida is Hispanic, Manhattan was a culture shock.

“I especially felt it around Christmas,” Rodriguez told Sports Nacion. “I was far from family, there was the weather, snow. I couldn’t get Spanish good. And my mom was going through tough times. She needed me to be close to her.”

Despite having success at K-State, Rodriguez transferred to Miami. A huge moment for him was when Larrañaga brought a translator when he visited Rodriguez and his mother, who can’t speak English. “The biggest thing was he made her feel comfortable,” Rodriguez said. “She was so happy. While coach Martin was great, Coach ‘L’ taught me to not only to be a good player but to be a successful person off the court. He’s a loving and very caring person. I wanted to have that kind of father figure. He hugs and laughs. He cares.”

That doesn’t mean the two haven’t had animated moments in practices and games. Larrañaga often can be seen putting his hands on Rodriguez’s shoulders during time outs and having those fatherly chats of what he wants out of him. During Miami’s comeback win over Louisville, Larrañaga told him, “‘Listen, you need to show everybody in this arena how hard you’re willing to play to win this game, how important this is to you, and your teammates will follow.’ I told him, ‘I want you to pick up their point guard full court and play with great defensive intensity, and you’ll see what happens.’ From that moment on, he was absolutely sensational. Best player on the court at both ends. Scoring, dishing, rebounding.”

Louisville’s Rick Pitino has noticed a huge difference between Angel 2015 and 2016. “Last year, he was out of control,” Pitino said. “He was erratic. He was heavy. This year, he’s light, speedy, smart. You’ve got to give credit to a player like that who turns his body and game around like that.”

While the Virginia Tech loss cost Miami a chance at tying for the ACC title, it still is making a strong push for the No. 2 seed. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and CBS Sportsline’s Jerry Palm have the Hurricanes pegged as a No. 3 seed. The No. 2s are either Michigan State, Oklahoma, Virginia, West Virginia, Oregon or Xavier.

With those teams so close, what could be a tiebreaker is who advances the farthest in the conference tourney and picks up the biggest wins over the next three days. With potential wins over Virginia and North Carolina, Miami has an outstanding chance to leapfrog over those teams, as well as the Tar Heels, who Lunardi has as a No. 1. But a loss to the Cavaliers and Miami likely is to settle is as a No. 3.