Rodriguez will be back in action Friday at 7 p.m. when the Bucs play their first exhibition game, a matchup with Limestone College at Freedom Hall. The 6-foot-7 rebounding machine has missed much of the preseason after undergoing foot surgery, but has been back at practice for a couple of weeks.
Last season, Rodriguez led the Southern Conference in rebounding and was one of the top rebounders in the country. That was after he sat out the previous season with a shoulder injury.
“It feels like the first year when I had to red-shirt,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve been waiting for my time to come. We have a good group of guys who compete every day.”
Rodriguez didn’t play during the team’s trip to Europe in August and ETSU coach Steve Forbes said he wasn’t sure how much he’ll play in the exhibition game. For his part, though, Rodriguez is ready to go.
“It feels good,” Rodriguez said. “We waited as long as we had to wait to make sure I was ready to go and healthy. We didn’t want to start doing stuff before it was ready. I’ve been going live every day in practice. I’ve been doing pretty good.”
The Bucs went 24-10 last year and have been picked to win the Southern Conference this season, something the players say is nice but doesn’t mean too much.
“It feels very good, but I feel like we have to get it done,” said Rodriguez, whose average of 10.9 rebounds per game was eighth nationally. “We have to make it happen. I think this year is going to be special.”
Rodriguez has already graduated and initially announced he was going to turn professional and play overseas. He changed his mind and decided to come back for one more season of college basketball.
It all starts Friday night and Forbes say he’s looking forward to seeing his team in action against an actual opponent after months of scrimmaging each other.
“I’d like to see a couple things on Friday,” he said. “I’d like to see us defend the 3-point line and execute offensively. Those are some things we have to continue to clean up.
“I enjoy coaching them and they come to work every day, but we haven’t progressed execution-wise like we need to. Execution is five guys doing the right things all the time, not four. That’s kind of where we’re at.”
ETSU returns its top six scorers from last year. The Bucs were second in the nation last season in rebounding margin, averaging 10.1 more rebounds than their opponents.
Rodriguez, Bo Hodges and Daivien Williamson were preseason all-conference picks. Patrick Good was an all-conference player last season.
Limestone is an NCAA Division II team from Gaffney, South Carolina. The Saints play in the Carolinas Conference and went 14-15 last year.
Kyle Perry is in his first year as Limestone’s coach.
ETSU opens the regular season Wednesday with a home game against Newberry, another NCAA Division II team.