Kaileb Rodriguez said committing to Cal a couple weeks ago has only boosted his confidence and motivation.
I talked on the phone with the 6-foot-9 junior forward from ThunderRidge High in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch, Colo., and he told me he chose Cal over Nevada and USF after making an unofficial campus visit with his parents during spring break.
“I liked everything about it,” Rodriguez said. “I’d never been to Berkeley. Walking through and seeing the magnitude of the campus and all the facilities was great.
“To be honest, the biggest selling point was Mike Montgomery. He’s such a prestigious bigs coach. They showed me a lot of clips of different big guys. It was everything I’ve been looking for.
“Throughout high school, I got the ball a lot, but not as much as I wanted. It seems all they do is run their offense through their 4-5.”
The prospect has Rodriguez pushing himself to a different level.
“Once I committed, it really boosted my confidence,” he said. “I felt like now I have something to practice even harder f0r every single day in practice.”
ThunderRidge coach Joe Ortiz said Rodriguez played extremely well in a recent spring tournament victory over the Double Pump Elite team in Denver.
“Kaileb was the best player,” Ortiz said. “He just has so much promise. His game is just changing. He has high promise. He’s not a realized player. He’s not there yet. He’s just finishing his junior year. There’s a long time before he plays for the Bears.
“His game is so mental and getting stronger. We’re seeing a little bit of creativity and ability to finish. He’s long and he’s’ athletic. He’s made tremendous progress through his career.”
Ortiz said Rodriguez averaged about 10 points and seven rebounds for ThunderRidge, adding those numbers are skewed by the fact the team plays a slow-paced style and averaged just 50 points per game.
Cal assistant coach Gregg Gottlieb first saw Rodriguez play last summer and showed consistent interest thereatfer, Ortiz said. Other schools, including Gonzaga and Colorado, were beginning to recruit Rodriguez more seriously when he committed to Cal.
“I could tell the interest level between somebody who sends you a letter and somebody who’s at your practice,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez has grown from about 175 pounds as a sophomore to just under 200. Ortiz believes he could be 6-10, 220 by the time he arrives in Berkeley. He’s the key player in a program that has played in Colorado state championship games five times in the past 10 seasons.
Rodriguez understands his game needs much improvement.
“My strengths are probably finishing around the basket,” he said. “I’m still working on getting stronger. That comes with time. I feel like once I get to Cal I’ll put on some pounds.
“Obviously you can always work on your mental game, getting better at not letting things bug you. I definitely have to work on my rebounding, getting balls above the rim.”
Rodriguez won’t arrive at Cal until the fall of 2012. By then, home-state school Colorado will be entering its second season in the Pac-12 Conference.
“To be honest with you, that was an extremly big part of my decision,” he said. “I always said I wanted to go to a big conference, and Cal will be playing CU every year.”