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Wilfredo Rodriguez embraces status as role model

The phone rings five times before Kevin Kehoe answers it.

“Hello?” he asks in a quiet, seemingly unenthused tone.

Just moments later, Kehoe’s voice is dripping with ebullience. That is, of course, because he’s talking about Wilfredo Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, who signed his National Letter of Intent with Binghamton’s men’s basketball team on April 16, spent the past year playing for Kehoe at Cheshire Academy in Connecticut. With Rodriguez taking home MVP honors, Cheshire captured its first NEPSAC Class B championship in 24 years.

But it’s not just Rodriguez’s skills on the court that stand out to Kehoe.

“He’s one of the most high-character kids I’ve ever coached,” Kehoe said.

Though Rodriguez arrived at Cheshire as a sought-after recruit — high-level programs Rutgers, UConn and Georgetown had all expressed interest — you wouldn’t know it watching him interact with his classmates throughout the last year.

“He’s befriended kids that were on the JV and even the lower end of teams,” Kehoe said. “He used to go to practice three hours before we ever practiced just to scrimmage with these kids that play on the low-level teams. He’s probably played every kid that bounces a basketball in our school one-on-one just because he’s a great kid.”

Rodriguez doesn’t do it for attention. He simply derives pleasure from serving as a role model.

“Some kids, they look up to people like me, varsity athletes that excel at their sports. So I figure why not,” Rodriguez said. “It’s always fun for me to play with younger kids that look up to you. You make their day, and you don’t even know it.”

Plus, playing — regardless of the level of competition — grants Rodriguez another opportunity to hone his craft, which he has been developing since he started playing organized basketball in middle school. The 6-foot-7 forward was blessed with a basketball body, but his dedicated work ethic has gone a long way toward making him a Division I player.

“When I first started playing, I wasn’t so good,” Rodriguez said, “so I just wanted to push myself to get better.”

Through hard work, Rodriguez developed an all-around game that captivated the attention of many college basketball coaches. He initially planned on spending his postgrad year at Air Force Prep — you can tell he would have fit in, as “yes, sir” is a dominant phrase in his lexicon — before electing to enroll at Cheshire Academy.

Rodriguez’s skills set has become so diverse that Kehoe never knew how he would impact a game. He only knew that Rodriguez would find a way to help the team win.

“If it’s scoring 30, he’ll score 30,” Kehoe said. “If it’s getting 10 assists, he’ll get 10 assists. If it’s about getting rebounds, he’ll get 10 rebounds.”

Kehoe said Rodriguez, who grew up in Orlando, Fla., and played for the Puerto Rican U18 team two summers ago, was “a lock for the Atlantic 10,” a league that produced six NCAA tournament teams in 2014. When Rodriguez verbally committed to the Bearcats on Dec. 5, northeast recruiting and scouting magnate Adam Finkelstein tweeted, “Binghamton got a good one earlier today – Wilfredo Rodriguez is long & athletic wing; should be able to make immediate contribution.”

So how did Rodriguez wind up pledging to an America East school?

“Just the coaching staff at Binghamton,” he said. “Give [associate head] coach [Ben] Luber a lot of credit. He really showed me a lot of love. I know he can develop me into the best player I can be.”

But as much as Rodriguez loves basketball, he finds solace away from the court as well.

“I’m pretty much like any other teenage guy — hang out with friends, play video games, stuff like that.”

And that, according to Kehoe, can make Rodriguez an integral member of any community.

“He came in [to Cheshire] as the fully qualified NCAA prospect,” Kehoe said, “and he not only embraced the basketball component here, but he’s become one of the most popular members of the community and one of the better students in our school.”