Every successful team needs at least one glue guy. For the Woodside High boys basketball team, there’s no doubt that player is Raul Rodriguez.
The senior guard readily acknowledges he’s not the Wildcats’ highest scorer, top rebounder or best player. But when it comes to establishing the team’s work ethic, fostering its tight-knit chemistry and setting an example of selfless, gritty play, Rodriguez stands alone.
It all starts with his determination. A year ago, while being relegated to the role of a benchwarmer that only played in blowouts, he made up his mind to work his tail off in practice.
That mind-set, which carried over into the summer league and weightlifting and skill sessions, not only paid dividends in terms of his on-court improvement, it also showed his coaches and the other Wildcats that he was a team-first player.
Heading into his senior season, Rodriguez was selected by his teammates as one of two captains alongside Matt Ennis. And coach Phillip White installed him as a regular starter, recognizing that the Wildcats benefit greatly from his leadership and intangibles.
“He gets guys to play hard. He’s a motivator on the team,” White said. “Guys really enjoy playing with him. He’s one of those guys who just make guys around him better.”
The first-year coach has been impressed with how Rodriguez has aided the team’s unity. Transfer student David Lopez hardly speaks any English, but he has been able to earn a spot in Woodside’s rotation in part because Rodriguez acts as his translator. White also commended Rodriguez’s role in helping integrate football players Ricki Hoffer and Byron Castillo into the framework after their late arrival.
“Raul’s really that guy who really brings it all together,” White added. “He’s like the hub in the middle of the wheel. They all funnel through him.”
Asked to describe his role as a co-captain, Rodriguez said, “I’m one of the leaders. I want my voice to be heard. I’m a guy who’s talking and facilitating with everyone. I just want everyone to feel comfortable.”
Rodriguez’s on-court credibility – critical to any leader – derives from his rugged defense and his general willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team.
White described the 5-foot-10 senior as “such a tenacious defender” – a player equally adept at matching up against guards or bigs. And Rodriguez relishes being asked to defend the opponent’s top offensive player, despite often being at a height disadvantage of up to five inches.
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “My mind-set on defense is just be that helper. If the other guy gets beat, I’m there to help. And every time my guy gets the ball, he’s not going to score.”
Rodriguez said the Wildcats, who regularly play with four guards at a time, know they need to have great communication on defense to overcome their lack of size. Thus far, they’ve faired very well in that pursuit.
Thanks largely to an aggressive, high-energy defense, Woodside is off to a 10-3 start heading into Friday night’s game against Sequoia and has surrendered 50 or more points just three times.
“We all know what needs to be done,” said Rodriguez, one of four Wildcats averaging at least two assists. “We have that mind-set where you’re going to have to outwork us both offensively and defensively.”
Hard work is nothing Rodriguez shies away from, on the court or in the classroom. He’s taking four AP classes this year, and when asked about his in-season schedule, he said, “It’s been a good experience for me to manage and use my time wisely.”
With the Peninsula Athletic League season a week away, Rodriguez said he can’t wait for Woodside to get to work on its goal of winning the title in the top-tier Bay Division. The Wildcats will have a great litmus test right out of the chute as they visit PAL heavyweight Burlingame on Jan. 11.
“It’s going to be really tough with Burlingame and El Camino,” said Rodriguez, who intends to study civil engineering in college. “They’re bigger teams. But we feel like we can pull it off. That’s our mentality.
“One step at a time.”