Miami’s Rodriguez breaks out of slump with advice from sports psychologist

Angel Rodriguez matched a career-high with 25 points in Miami's win over FSU.

Danny Wild/Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — All it took was a 20-minute phone call to get Miami redshirt junior guard Angel Rodriguez’s groove back.

Mired in a career-worse slump, Rodriguez finally caved into his self-proclaimed hardheaded nature and heeded head coach Jim Larranaga’s advice two days ago.

After being approached by assistant coach Chris Caputo, Rodriguez spoke to Larranaga’s long-time friend Dr. Bob Rotella, a sport psychologist who works with the Kentucky Wildcats and PGA Tour golfers.

"I had encouraged Angel to do some of the things that Dr. Rotella has taught me over the years, and I wanted Angel to talk with him, but most kids think it’s like voodoo and it’s not,” Larranaga said. ”It’s just thinking, how to think correctly. We finally got him on the phone.”

Following the conversation, Rodriguez told Larranaga, ”I’m good.” That’s all the assurance the longtime coach needed.

Rodriguez matched his career high with 25 points in Miami’s 81-77 victory over rival Florida State on Wednesday night at BankUnited Center. He shot 8 of 14 from the floor (9 of 11 from the field) with five assists, four rebounds and three steals in a team-high 38 minutes.  

Over his past 12 games, Rodriguez had scored in double digits just four times. Wednesday marked his best performance since putting up 24 points on Jan. 13 at Duke in the Hurricanes’ blowout.

"The coaches have been telling me to do that, but I’m hardheaded,” Rodriguez said on Wednesday night. ”I’m like, ‘I got it. I’m going to be positive.’ I listened to them, and look what happened.”

It couldn’t have come at a better time for Miami with Saturday’s home finale against No. 15 North Carolina. The Hurricanes are desperately clinging to NCAA Tournament hopes. They likely must win out in the regular season and take a couple of games in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament for a berth. 

”He’s a leader of this team and I know it’s been a lot of pressure on him, but we go as he goes, so when he has the best success we all do and kind of feed off his vibe and how he’s playing,” sophomore guard Davon Reed said. ”We see shots go down for him and create shots for other people. It just made the game easier.”

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Rodriguez connected on three of his first four shots, opening with a quick six points through seven minutes. Those early buckets, that early success, gave him the confidence to keep shooting. He drove to the basket. He found his teammates.

”When you see your first couple shots go in, the rim the rim gets bigger an digger, so that’s what it kind of was,” Rodriguez said. ”The first couple of minutes set the tone for me.”

Towards the end of the game when Florida State freshman guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes brought the Seminoles within striking distance, Rodriguez knocked down five straight free throws.

Though Rodriguez said he entered each game ”feeling great” with a positive mindset, the results weren’t there. Still, the coaches didn’t quit on him. That, in turn, kept him positive.

”He was just trying to keep my mind positive, giving me examples of how everything started with me and how at the beginning of the season when we were basically on the map we were just out there having fun, I was just out there having fun, not caring about anything else,” Rodriguez said. ”I was just treating it like what it is — a basketball game. After that, expectations got higher and I approached the game a little bit different, basically put a little bit of pressure on myself instead of just taking the same approach to the game, which is have fun and it’s just a basketball game. He said a lot of things that are basic, but that I wasn’t thinking about. They obviously work, man.”

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.