Spartan Spotlight - Robert Rodriguez

LANGLEY, British Columbia - Robert Rodriguez had never seen his dad cry before.

In 18 years, James Brown hadn’t shed a single tear in front of his youngest son.  

But the day Rodriguez walked across the stage and officially graduated from Sacramento’s Sheldon High School in 2006, Brown couldn’t help himself. Rodriguez was the first of Brown’s eight children and his only son to complete high school.

“I was really proud of him,” Brown says. “I didn’t think he was going to get that far at all. I didn’t think he was going to make it out of junior high without getting involved in gangs. But he stayed with basketball. I lot of guys would have given up.”

Brown’s tears represented everything to Rodriguez.

He had proved everyone wrong. The odds had been stacked against him. But, despite the doubters, he did it.  

“I wasn’t a troublemaker but I was just a knucklehead and didn’t care about school when I was younger,” Rodriguez says. “I was the jokester. Most people expected me to drop out of high school, but I didn’t.”

Ultimately, it was that high school diploma that sparked Rodriguez’s roller coaster journey to Trinity Western.

Rodriguez was born in Compton, California. And the now 5-foot-10 Spartans point guard spent the first nine years of his life residing in one of Los Angeles’ most notorious neighbourhoods and his family had little more than just each other.

At one point he, his parents and his siblings lived in a car. His mom would cover the windows with sheets to avoid the prying eyes of mockers.

“My mom put up sheets so people wouldn’t laugh at us,” says Rodriguez, who was the second youngest child of the eight children in the family. “Random people would just laugh at us.”

Fortunately, Rodriguez had three things going for him: God, family and basketball.

Somehow, beyond Compton, God had a plan. Rodriguez’s family stuck together through the most difficult of times. And it was basketball that kept Rodriguez out of trouble.

“The area where I grew up wasn’t the best,” Rodriguez says. “There were shootings and stuff like that but I thank Jesus. I never got into the drugs and alcohol. I always played basketball.”

It was a rare hour when one wouldn’t see Rodriguez without a basketball in his hand. Seemingly born to be a point guard, he honed his craft dribbling through busy malls, down crowded streets and in local corner stores. And fortuitously, other’s noticed.

“The gang members never really messed with me because I was just playing basketball,” Rodriguez says. “They knew I wasn’t trying to get involved with that.”

Brown added: “A couple of his friends who didn’t get into sports got into a bit of trouble. But basketball kept him out of trouble.”

When Rodriguez was nine years old, and with basketball already well at the forefront of his life, his parents made perhaps the best decision they could have for the youngster and his siblings. They took the family out of Compton and moved it to Sacramento.

“My parents didn’t want me to get into the world of crime,” Rodriguez says. “If I would have stayed there, I don’t know where I’d be. I don’t think I’d be at (Trinity Western). I’d probably be in jail or something. I think I had God protecting me. I would go to parties and people would get shot. I was just the lucky one. There were so many opportunities where I could have had my life in danger.”

Sacramento, while still far from a comfortable lifestyle, became his home. And it was there Rodriguez started to lay the foundation for not only graduating high school but also a future at the post-secondary level.

With a basketball in his hands, Rodriguez and his family moved to Las Vegas for his sophomore year of high school before returning to Sacramento, settling into Elk Grove and enrolling at Sheldon – the same high school former Saskatchewan Huskies point guard Jamelle Barrett once attended – for his Grade 11 and 12 years.

It was there that he decided he was going to buck his family’s trend and finish high school.

“I look back and now I’m happy,” Rodriguez says. “It’s a blessing because I’m in Canada playing. Sometimes, I don’t know how I made it.”

At times, neither did others.

At a college fair during his senior year of high school, Rodriguez ran into his Grade 6 teacher from Sacramento’s John Reith Elementary.

She didn’t recognize him at first. But then he said his name and what elementary school he had gone to.

Like his dad on his graduation day, she started to cry.

“She told me she thought I’d be in jail or dead by 18,” Rodriguez says. “She was so proud of how I had turned things around. I was so bad at school when I was younger. I didn’t care. Teachers didn’t want to teach me.

“But once I got to Sheldon, I got a fresh start and I decided to start over and be the first one of my family to graduate.”

After completing his Grade 12 year, he bounced around universities, from NCAA Div. 1 Texas Southern to a brief stint studying at Texas Tech to Yuba College – the same college former Spartan Niko Monachini attended prior to coming to TWU – to UNBC before finally landing at TWU this fall. At 25 years old.

Before joining the Spartans, Rodriguez had found himself sleeping on his mom’s couch. He didn’t have a job and with his credit cards were adding up.

After playing with UNBC in the then-BCCAA in 2010-11, Rodriguez went back to Sacramento at a loss for his next step.

He still trained on the court, but otherwise, his life started to turn sour.

“I was thinking about working and money,” Rodriguez says. “My faith was done and I didn’t care about anything. I was angry. People knew I was changing. Then I was just sitting there one day and said to myself, ‘What am I doing?’”

While perusing Facebook, something popped up about TWU. He had recalled Monachini had gone there and thought he would contact coach Scott Allen.

“Something made me email Trinity Western,” Rodriguez says. “I emailed him out of the blue. God made me do it. I wasn’t even looking at other CIS schools.”

With that, his journey back to Canada and to Langley, B.C. began. After a trip to see the school, both he and Allen were convinced this was the place for him.

Rodriguez clearly fit in.

And, now nine games into the season, he’s finding his form at the CIS level. Against Saskatchewan on the road, it was Rodriguez who instigated TWU’s second half rally, which ultimately ended with a 75-73 win over the No. 5 Huskies. Playing 36 minutes and collecting 15 points, he helped TWU come all the way back from a 16-point deficit to earn one of its biggest wins of the season.

“When Tyus went down, that was a changing point for Rob,” says Allen. “He realized it’s no longer going to be me and Ty, it’s just going to be me. He really excelled in that situation.”

Then on Friday night, he continued to surge, playing a season-high 39 minutes and adding five assists in a 60-57 win over No. 3 Victoria.

Through eight games, he’s averaged 26 minutes, 7.1 points and 3.3 assists per game. Now with full control of the offence in hand, he could well be finally on the cusp of his true potential.

“I’m not putting up big numbers but I’m helping the team,” says Rodriguez, who was voted by his teammates to be one of TWU’s captains. “I’m not scared of anyone and I play with passion.

“I love my teammates and Coach Allen is one of the best coaches I have ever had. He’s really hard on me and that’s what I want. That’s going to make me better for whatever I do in life. Sometimes he gets on my nerves but I get on his nerves too. He’s like a second father to me. He wants you to do well. I didn’t start for a few games and I was upset but I realized I have to perform. There are no excuses. I have to play well.”

No excuses and passion.

Rodriguez’s two calling cards.

Growing up, he could have made all sort of excuses and chosen a different path. He could have taken the easy road and tumbled into trouble. He didn’t. And when he’s on the court he can leave all the rest of his issues behind and just play with passion.

“Once I play, I don’t think about anything else,” Rodriguez says.

Earlier this week, Rodriguez made a phone call home. It was American Thanksgiving on Thursday and his family was gathering. He talked to his dad and the pride in his father’s voice was evident. He was simply proud that Rodriguez was actually doing was he enjoys.

“Making them happy, makes me happy,” Rodriguez says. “They’ve been through a lot and they don’t have a lot but when I’m playing basketball and doing what I love, that makes them happy.”

It also makes them and Rodriguez happy that he’s still in school.

“I could have been doing drugs or selling drugs,” says Rodriguez, who is taking general studies at TWU but has aspirations to become a nurse. “God had a path for me. I’m happy I’m here and being coached by one of the best coaches in Canada. That’s why I don’t really complain if I don’t play as much, because I’m blessed.

And it’s that positivity no matter the situation that’s rubbing off on his teammates.

“I think he’s been through a journey in his life in which he’s learned to make a decision to see the positives in life,” Allen says. “The maturity of that is pretty instrumental in the leadership for our team.

“He’s embraced what we believe in as a team. Even when things are tough for him, he decides to look at life on the bright side and that has carried over onto the team.”

From Compton to Langley, Rodriguez’s life has presented challenges many could never imagine, but as he talks about it all, remarkably, a smile comes across his face. He knows there’s a plan.

“I think God had a journey for me when I was younger and he still has a journey for me now.”

-TW-

Last Updated: 2013-11-30
Author: Mark Janzen

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