He has the most career points out of anyone in Binghamton’s Division I program history. He has been named to preseason all-conference teams. The only year he did not lead the team in scoring and rebounds was in the 2016-17 season, when he came in second instead. The impressive list of stats can continue endlessly. He has done all he expected from himself. Now, his main goal, his only goal, is to do everything he can for the team.
Senior forward Willie Rodriguez sat down after practice ended, showing off his new Nintendo 64 tattoo, all smiles and laughs. Rodriguez started playing competitive basketball in middle school and, over the years, has had too much fun to stop.
“For me it all started in middle school,” Rodriguez said. “I went to some team’s practice, was awful, but I was having fun. I kept playing. I was just playing for fun. Played AAU, played high school basketball.”
After playing for four years at East River High School, and another year at Cheshire Academy, Rodriguez decided on Binghamton. Rodriguez remembers his high school team’s dramatic climb from last place to third place during his sophomore year, playing in a talented league with stars such as future 10th-overall NBA draft pick Austin Rivers. Rodriguez recalled one game in particular, when his team needed him to step up and he delivered, scoring a massive 44 points.
Choosing to come to Binghamton was a pretty easy decision for Rodriguez, who said he never really considered other schools, despite drawing interest from Rutgers, Georgetown and UConn.
“I just got along with the coaching staff,” Rodriguez said. “I got along with the team right when I took my visit. Obviously, the education here, this is a pretty good university.”
Last year, Rodriguez’s goal for the season was to improve his 3-point shot. He succeeded, improving from 26.2 percent from outside two years ago to 38.6 percent from deep this past season.
“Just play hard,” Rodriguez said, when asked what his new goal for this year was. “Every possession I take, play hard. Play hard, with a motor, the whole time I’m on the court.”
Despite being a relatively quiet person, Rodriguez has emerged as a strong leader for the Bearcats going into his senior year.
“[Being a leader] means a lot,” Rodriguez said. “It means the other guys look up to me and I’ve got to make sure I give them something to look up to. Whether that’s by leading by example, which is what I try to do. I’m not more of a vocal leader. I’m more of a lead-by-example type of guy. So that’s why I’m trying to play hard in practice. It starts in practice and then we’ll get into games.”
The Bearcats have not had a winning season while Rodriguez has been on the team. Their best season with Rodriguez was last year, when the Bearcats went 12-20 overall, despite an injury keeping Rodriguez out for the first nine games of the season. Entering his final season for BU, Rodriguez does not want to leave without giving the Binghamton community a winning season.
“I just want to leave a winning program,” Rodriguez said. “I feel I don’t have to prove anything individually, but as a team, I want the guys that came here with me my freshman year leaving together, but leaving a winning program for the community.”
Despite previous rough seasons, Rodriguez is optimistic about the Bearcats’ upcoming season.
“I feel pretty confident [about this year],” Rodriguez said. “I feel the most confident I have felt since I’ve been here.”
Rodriguez is throwing away the past. There is only one season now — his final season — and Rodriguez will be giving his all every minute of this season to make sure the team succeeds.
“You just gotta keep fighting,” Rodriguez said. “Honestly, we don’t really talk about last year no more. That’s behind us. We’re focused on this year and we know we got something to do and we have the team to do it.”