Angel Rodriguez gives a simple answer of "zero" when asked how much English he knew when he arrived in Miami, Fla., from his native home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, nearly four years ago as a 15-year-old.
"Zero … zero," he emphasized. "I came not knowing one word, but I really wanted to learn because I wanted to have conversations." Today, the Wildcat freshman is as fluent with the English language as he is with a Nike basketball in hand and Swoosh shoes on his feet, which was always the intention.
"Home (San Juan) is not the place for you to stay focused. There are a lot of distractions," said Rodriguez. "I wanted to make it in basketball. That wasn't going to happen in Puerto Rico."
While he wanted to leave his native country, it's also a background that he carries with him today. Initially listed as being from Miami, Fla., in K-State media material, he requested that all future mention would list his home as being San Juan.
"I have a lot of pride. I lived in Miami only three years, while I was born and raised I Puerto Rico. I know what it is like to be Puerto Rican and I have family in Puerto Rico," said Rodriguez, who has a Puerto Rican flag in his apartment and lists native hip-hop/rap artist Kendo Kaponi as being featured in his IPod.
"It makes me feel good and my family will be proud."
Rodriguez moved to Miami on the urging of his cousin, Javi Gonzalez, who played three seasons of basketball at North Carolina State ending in 2010. He lived with his uncle and played a Miami's Krop High School, which is also the alma mater of Luis Colon, another native of Puerto Rico and ex-Wildcat.
"Javi saw me in a tournament and told me that I could leave and have a future, or stay here (Puerto Rico) and do what everyone does," said Rodriguez. "I wanted to be different and accomplish something."
Being the oldest son of Jacqueline Tricoche, Rodriguez admits that tears flowed in discussing the possible move with his mother.
"She said she didn't want me to go, but that she loved me so much she was going to let me go. She understood it was necessary to have success," said Rodriguez.
"She cried, but in the end she was happy and proud of what I was doing."
Tricoche has yet to see her son play as a Wildcat, and only saw one game in person while he was at Krop High School, where he would be ranked the No. 4 prospect in the state by FloridaHoops.com.
It was at Krop that he was coached by Marcos "Shakey" Rodriguez, who also coached Martin when he was in high school.
Of that tie, Rodriguez said, "He told me everything to expect. He said that you're going to get yelled out when you don't do the right thing and he told me how much effort it requires to play defense for Frank. He stressed how you have to stay positive and be mentally strong. If you're not mentally strong, you can't play for Frank. He expects 100 percent every day. If you're not willing to do that, you're going to be in trouble."
Like with players coming from the inner-city, Martin said of the background of Rodriguez, "With that ball, you can go see and world and find success rather than hatred. I wish more people would understand that. We tell them, ‘Don't let the ball use you. You learn to use the ball. Learn to use the ball and make a lot out of it. If the ball uses you, you'll have a short, short career.'
"He wants to use a basketball to show him the world. He really wanted to play basketball, but understood that he needed better competition and better coaching," said Martin. "Had he not made that decision, who knows what he would be doing right now."