MANHATTAN — Watching Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Sunday made Frank Martin think about his coaching past and the future of Kansas State basketball all at once.
On the court for the Dallas Mavericks was J.J. Barea, a small but incredibly crafty and energetic guard who Martin recruited and coached as an assistant at Northeastern. Time and again he ran around the opposition and sliced his way through the Miami Heat's defense to make big shots and create openings for teammates.
After making three surprise starts, and averaging 8.8 points, 3.2 assists and 2.2 rebounds in the Finals, he went from unsung hero to major player on a championship team.
"I was ecstatic for him," Martin said. "It was great to see him perform like a champ. As a coach you sit back and really enjoy watching a kid you know go out and perform that way on such a big stage."
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All the while, K-State freshman Angel Rodriguez was in the back of Martin's mind. If Martin had to compare the 5-foot-11 point guard from Miami to any player he has coached, it would be Barea.
"Angel has a basketball style that is very similar to Jose Juan Barea," Martin said. "They are alike in so many aspects."
For starters, they are roughly the same height. Barea is about an inch taller. They are also both from Puerto Rico and have lived in south Florida. They share similar backgrounds.
But more than anything, they are linked by their ability to shoot from the outside, find open shooters while driving in the paint and making shots in traffic over larger defenders.
"They're both just pit bulls and ferocious competitors," Martin said. "They're both very good at the pick-and-roll and they both play with determination."
"They are fearless around the basket," said Art Alvarez, who coached both players on the AAU circuit. "It's real scary, the way they finish. J.J. doesn't care who is down there in front of him blocking the rim. Angel is the same way. He's a great finisher in traffic."
Many have also compared Rodriguez to former K-State point guard Denis Clemente, but Martin disagrees with that assessment.
"Where Denis played off speed, these two guys play off savvy and change of pace," Martin said. "Barea starts going at a certain pace and then he explodes. Angel is that same way. They're both fearless attacking defenses in a halfcourt set. They make terrific decisions."
Alvarez introduced the Rodriguez and Barea after Game 1 in Miami. Alvarez told Rodriguez to take advantage of the opportunity, and study how Barea played.
Afterward, they swapped stories and Barea offered some advice.
"J.J. is his idol, and Angel was dying to meet him," Alvarez said. "I had told J.J. a little about him, so they talked and we got a real nice picture of them both. Angel had a good time and left very impressed. I heard him telling J.J., 'I'm going to be as good as you. I want to follow in your footsteps. Whatever it takes, I'm going to do it.' "
Martin and Alvarez think he has that much potential.
As a senior at Miami Dr. Krop High, Rodriguez averaged 23 points and six assists. Similar numbers to Barea. But overall, Martin and Alvarez say Rodriguez is off to a faster start.
"Believe it or not, Angel is better in a lot of ways than J.J. was when he came out of high school," Alvarez said. "He shoots the ball better and is stronger. But here's where they're different: When J.J. was going into college, he was such a great player that he really didn't like to practice much. Angel has great work ethic and he loves to practice and hit the weight room."
Will that help him in his pursuit of Barea? Rodriguez has yet to suit up for a game at Bramlage Coliseum, so he has a long journey ahead of him. It may be a lot to shoot for, but Martin certainly endorses the dream.
"When you consider that Jason Kidd is one of the top three or four point guards to ever play in the NBA," Martin said, "and he's deferring to Jose Juan Barea — just passing him the ball and getting out of the way — that's pretty impressive."