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Reading's Rodriguez relishes chance with Puerto Rico U18 team

06/28/2022, 1:15pm EDT
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

Their Puerto Rican nationality is a source of pride in Ruben Rodriguez’s family.

But earlier this year he could barely remember the last time he visited the Commonwealth, technically an unincorporated U.S. territory.

That changed this spring.

Rodriguez had the opportunity to visit Puerto Rico and then represent them on the national stage recently.

He tried out for the country’s U18 national team, made the squad, then competed in the FIBA U18 Americas Championship in Mexico from June 6-12.

“It was definitely a blessing. My parents come from there and my grandparents,” Rodriguez said at Philly Live I last weekend. “They really love where they’re from, so it was really cool to be able to go out there and represent them.”

Reading's Ruben Rodriguez goes up for a shot. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

A Reading High fan in Puerto Rico saw highlights of Rodriguez playing for the Red Knights during the high school season when he was a first team all-state selection.

The fan got word to the national team program about the talented guard whose parents were both born in Puerto Rico.

Rodriguez got a call to try-out and after some back-and-forth trips earned a spot on the U18 roster.

“I was doing really good during the basketball season, so I guess they had seen me in the news, something about the news down there,” Rodriguez said. “They called me to see how I played in real life. I went down there, did a couple practices and they said they liked my game so they brought me back down.”

Rodriguez stayed with an uncle on his dad’s side in Puerto Rico and reconnected with his great grandpa. He was able to see them in his free time for the first time since he was 12 years old.

It was a surreal experience for someone who had never traveled out of the country before.

“I was there (in Puerto Rico) but I was only like 4 or 5, so I don’t really remember,” Rodriguez said. “Going there technically wasn’t, but it was like my first time down there.”

Rodriguez played well for Puerto Rico in six games at the FIBA U18 Americas Championship. He averaged 9.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg and 2.2 apg as his team went 4-2, earning wins against the Dominican Republic (twice), Ecuador and Mexico and falling to the U.S. and Canada.

Roriguez’ father and grandparents were able to stay with family friends in Mexico to come watch him in person. Those who didn’t make the trip watched closely to the live streams.

He noted the United States’ Cam Whitmore, a Villanova recruit, was likely the most impressive player his team matched up with at the event.

“I would say there was a lot of good teams,” Rodriguez said. “There was a kid from Mexico, he could really go. There were a lot of talented kids.”

While he excelled, he also noticed a difference in the international game.

“The way people play is very different,” Rodriguez said. “Everybody runs a lot of plays. It’s different from the basketball here (in the U.S.). I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s different from down here.”

“It was a whole different level of play,” he added.

Rodriguez said most of his teammates knew English. Some of them like Rodriguez play high school basketball in the U.S., like Gill St. Bernard’s (N.J.) 2023 forward Geancarlo Peguero.

Only about three players didn’t know English, but his Spanish was strong enough to communicate with them.

“I understood everything they were saying, it was just speaking some words were harder,” Rodriguez said.

“It was pretty cool talking to them.”

Along with the basketball, the international event was an opportunity to for Rodriguez to get a glimpse of the rest of the world.

“Everybody was different and everybody you met was somebody new,” Rodriguez said. “Everybody acted a different way. It was cool just interacting against them and getting to know them.”

Wearing the Puerto Rico uniform was a special experience for him and his family.

“I knew my grandmom would tell me every time she’s proud of me because you know that’s not something that’s easy to get to,” Rodriguez. “Being able to get down there was something cool.”

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