Binghamton head coach Tommy Dempsey was looking for a spark. Struggling late in the first half two weeks ago against Central Connecticut State, the BU men’s basketball team looked to junior forward Willie Rodriguez. The Bearcats’ biggest offensive threat came off the bench, playing just nine minutes before re-aggravating a hamstring injury sustained in a preseason scrimmage.
The Orlando, Florida native was unavailable to play in Binghamton’s (4-4) four-game Florida road trip over Thanksgiving break, which had been planned after Dempsey promised to play a series of games close to Rodriguez’s home.
“It’s tough for him to not be able to play on this trip through Florida, but it’s still our job to do what’s best for the student athlete,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey had also promised guard Romello Walker a game closer to home. But Walker, who hails from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has since transferred to Midwestern State, meaning that neither of the players who were initially responsible for Binghamton’s Florida trip played in it.
Over the course of the trip, Rodriguez has received treatment three to four times per day for his hamstring. Dempsey, however, plans on exercising caution before re-inserting him into the lineup.
“It just hasn’t healed as quickly as we had hoped,” Dempsey said. “He’s feeling good and starting to feel better. I think he’s close to returning to action but we want him really close to 100 percent because he’s just so important to the future of our season.”
Despite Rodriguez’s inability to play, his family appeared at all four of Binghamton’s games.
“They understand that as much as part of this trip was to bring him home to play, his long-term health is more important than anything else,” Dempsey said.
In 2015-16, Rodriguez was the Bearcats’ leading scorer, recording an average of 15.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Rodriguez excels at driving to the basket and finding points inside the paint, but has played in just one game, allowing junior forward Dusan Perovic to benefit from extended playing time. Perovic has started six of Binghamton’s eight games.
“Dusan [Perovic] has been really important to our good start,” Dempsey said. “He’s healthy now, but last year he was coming off ACL surgery and he never really found a groove.”
Binghamton’s road trip consisted of four games in five days. The Bearcats faced Ave Maria, Florida Gulf Coast, Long Beach State and FIU. BU’s games against FCGU and LBSU were part of the non-bracketed segment of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
“These road trips are really nice for team bonding and getting the guys away from campus,” Dempsey said. “You spend a lot of time together and eat all your meals together. It’s early in the season and we’re just trying to grow as a basketball team and grow together as a group. I think these trips help you do both.”
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