For the second time in his young life, Angel Rodriguez has packed his bags and ventured off to begin a new life in a foreign land, where finding pancake mix is much harder than he expected.
Rodriguez, the Puerto Rican who moved to Miami on his own at age 15 to pursue his hoop dreams, became a star point guard at the University of Miami and earned a spot on the San Antonio Spurs Summer League team. But he didn’t make the cut, so he signed a 10-month contract to play in the French first division, with a team called Cholet Basket in a town of 55,000 best known for its red linen handkerchiefs.
It was definitely culture shock, starting with his first trip to the grocery store.
“The products look completely different, I can’t read the labels, and I couldn’t find Alfredo sauce or pancake mix,” Rodriguez said by phone on Tuesday. “I looked all over for pancake mix, and they don’t have it. I asked the other American guys on the team and they told me about a grocery an hour away that has a small section with American products, so I drove there and I found pancake mix.”
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He does love the bread there (“I can’t stop eating it,” he said) and is getting used to smaller portions and organic vegetables. He enrolled in a French class.
Rodriguez has also had to adjust to a French style of basketball, which means less dribbling, more quick passes and longer runs rather than sprints at practice. He is one of five U.S. players on the team, along with Isaiah Swann (Florida State), David Noel (North Carolina), Graham Brown (Michigan), and Benjamin Dewar (Lake Superior State).
All the other Americans are older and have played in France, so they have been helping Rodriguez get acclimated.
“I couldn’t be more thankful for those guys because I am the only rookie, so they’ve made me feel more comfortable,” Rodriguez said.
He says it can get lonely living alone in a town 4,400 miles from Miami. His wife, Jesenia, will be visiting in 10 days, and she’ll be back over Christmas for a vacation to Paris, London and Milan, but she is finishing her college degree so can’t move to France. Rodriguez passes the time watching Netflix, reading, streaming college football games and talking on the phone through What’s App and FaceTime, sometimes as late as 4 a.m. when there is no morning practice.
“One morning I was making breakfast at 11 a.m. and my cellphone rang, and I was like, ‘Who would be up in the U.S. at 5 in the morning to call me, and it turned out it was Coach L (Jim Larrañaga) FaceTiming me,” Rodriguez said, laughing. “That tells you what kind of coach he is, that he’d FaceTime me at 5 in the morning just to see how I’m doing.”
One month in Europe has made Rodriguez appreciate U.S. college facilities. “Americans can be spoiled,” he said. “I would tell college kids now, ‘Don’t take what you have for granted.’ Not everyone goes to the NBA, many of us end up in Europe and South America, and trust me, the facilities are not the same.”
Although he still dreams of making the NBA, Rodriguez embraces his opportunity with Cholet.
“You can’t convince me that I can’t play in the NBA, but I understood that I was against the odds. Chances of me making a team now [are] not very high, realistically. That only motivated me. I’ve got to take a different path. But economically how I grew up in Puerto Rico, I never imagined I’d be in position to give my kids, my family a lifestyle that I didn’t have. I am thankful for every opportunity, because you live and you learn through everything.”