While starring at North Idaho College for two seasons, Braian Angola could fill it up.
The 6-foot-6, 195-pound guard averaged 21.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game as a sophomore, including a career-high 39 points (in just 22 minutes) against Columbia Basin. He was named Region 18 Player of the Year and led the Cardinals to the NJCAA tournament for the first time since 1997. NIC was 54-9 in his two seasons in Coeur d’Alene.
The last two seasons at Florida State, he has developed into a defensive stopper for the Seminoles (22-11), who play Gonzaga (32-4) tonight at 7 in an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“When you get to the ACC, you can’t shoot it any time you want,” said NIC coach Corey Symons, who with his wife, Nicole, flew to L.A. to watch his former player. “With us, we let him play through some bad decisions.”
After watching him play previously at FSU, Nicole, an assistant girls basketball coach at Coeur d’Alene High, told Braian, “You’ve got to shoot the ball more.”
“Nicole, this isn’t North Idaho College.”
MAKE NO mistake, Angola can still score — the senior is second on a balanced Seminoles squad in points (12.8), steals (1.4) and assists (2.97) per game. He scored a game-high 16 points as ninth-seeded Florida State rallied to beat No. 1 seed Xavier 75-70 in the second round last Sunday in Nashville.
But what he does best for the Seminoles is make life miserable for the other team’s top scorer.
“They love his defense,” said Corey Symons, who along with NIC assistant coach George Swanson surprised Angola by flying to Tallahassee for his senior day. They were sitting in Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton’s office when Hamilton called Angola into his office. “They say he’s one of the best defenders in the ACC.”
Symons said Angola, who went by Braian Angola-Rodas until just before this season, had that defensive ability in him at NIC as well.
“We didn’t put him on the other team’s best offensive player,” Symons said. “We hid him so he could keep his energy for offense. He’s got a high IQ and knows where to be defensively. We just needed him more on offense.”
WHILE AN assistant at NIC for 10 seasons, Symons worked during the summers at Black Rock, mostly as a caddie. It was there he met Cliff Findlay, who founded Findlay Prep in Las Vegas and owns Findlay Hyundai in Post Falls.
Findlay told him about Angola, who played one year at Findlay Prep with future Zag Nigel Williams-Goss.
“He’s a special guy,” said Symons said. “With his father passing away just before he came to us, he became family to us.”
Symons said when Angola left Colombia to come to the U.S., “he didn’t speak any English. But when we got him (after a year at Findlay Prep, and another at another prep school in the L.A. area), he spoke real good English.”
It helped that Symons also recruited point guard Lucas Antunez, from Spain, to NIC. Antunez, who went on to play at Toledo and then at Northeastern State, helped Angola with his English. Both already spoke Spanish, so they had that in common.
“They were probably talking about me (at practice), and I didn’t know,” Symons said with a laugh.
When it came time to move on from NIC, Symons said Angola had “around 40” offers from high-major schools, including “the whole Pac-12.”
Gonzaga showed some interest, Symons said, but was already well-stocked at the guard position, which included Williams-Goss.
Angola picked Florida State in part, Symons said, because it was a short (three-hour) flight from Colombia.
For senior day, Angola’s mother, Ofelia Rodas, surprised her son by flying in from Columbia. Also there was Angola’s girlfriend, former Coeur d’Alene High and NIC standout Kama Griffitts, who is playing professionally in Denmark. Griffitts and Angola met at NIC when Griffitts, who helped the Cardinal women to a national title in 2012, was back in town a few years later to help out her former team.
“He’s like our third son,” Symons said. “My boys are real mad that I’ve got to see him twice (at FSU), and they didn’t get to go.”
SO TONIGHT, Angola will likely be assigned to Gonzaga’s top perimeter player — perhaps Zach Norvell Jr., a redshirt freshman who has scored 43 points, including 28 vs. Ohio State, in the Bulldogs’ two NCAA wins.
“They’re a very deep team,” Angola said of the Zags, during an NCAA interview session Wednesday in Los Angeles. “They have a lot of shooters, and their big men are pretty strong. So we just have to contain the dribble. Their transition game is pretty good. So you have to rebound and contend the dribble and keep your people in front of you, contest shooters and just run.”
And while most of the Inland Northwest will be pulling for their beloved Zags tonight, some in North Idaho will be quietly — or not so quietly — rooting for Angola and Florida State.
“It’ll be a little weird,” said Symons, who flew down to L.A. on Wednesday on a plane with a bunch of Zag fans. “We’re Gonzaga fans, but on Thursday, we’re Florida State fans for one day.”
Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@CdAPressSports.