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Joey Rodríguez and VCU Are Toppling Giants on the Way to the Sweet 16

  • Virginia Commonwealth's Joey Rodriguez looks to pass during practice for an NCAA Southwest Regional tournament basketball game in Chicago, Thursday, March 17, 2011. VCU will face Georgetown in the second round Friday. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

    Virginia Commonwealth's Joey Rodriguez looks to pass during practice for an NCAA Southwest Regional tournament basketball game in Chicago, Thursday, March 17, 2011. VCU will face Georgetown in the second round Friday. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Virginia Commonwealth's Joey Rodriguez looks to pass during practice for an NCAA Southwest Regional tournament basketball game in Chicago, Thursday, March 17, 2011. VCU will face Georgetown in the second round Friday. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

    Virginia Commonwealth's Joey Rodriguez looks to pass during practice for an NCAA Southwest Regional tournament basketball game in Chicago, Thursday, March 17, 2011. VCU will face Georgetown in the second round Friday. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

NEW YORK—Joey Rodríguez came this close to missing his chance to play Cinderella VCU into the Sweet 16 of this year’s NCAA tournament.

Rodríguez, nicknamed 'Boo Boo' by those close to him, felt down and out about two years ago when his former coach Anthony Grant took the head coaching job at Alabama.

He packed up and went back home to Florida, but after a few weeks of contemplating his future, the senior point guard decided it was time to head back to VCU.

"I could be in Division II Rollins College right now. They’ve got a good program, but I wouldn't have this opportunity I'm having now," Rodríguez told Fox News Latino in a phone interview.

"Once coach Grant left, I just decided it was best for me to just go back home and just go to Rollins. After like three weeks I was just like, 'Man I'm ready to go back to VCU and be around my boys,' said Rodríguez.

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“They took me back with open arms and I appreciate them for that" he adds.

Although his father said anything, Rodríguez knew his decision to return to the Rams made his dad happy.

"I knew him the whole time he was like 'What are you doing? I want you to be back at VCU.' Once I made the decision to go back, he was probably the happiest guy I know," he added.

Despite a strong schedule that featured early season wins over Wake Forest and UCLA, a loss in the CAA title game to Old Dominion, left analysts convinced that VCU would be iced out of the big dance. Some even mocked their hopes of receiving an at-large bid.

"When people doubt you like that, you want to come out and prove them wrong. It's helped us. It' been great," said Rodríguez, whose grandparents are Puerto Rican. "They said what they wanted to say but we got in the tournament. We're playing really good right now and hopefully we keep it up."

VCU has quieted the naysayers by beating USC in their first game and then taking out sixth-seeded Georgetown and third-seeded Purdue over the weekend.

"We do have a chip on our shoulder, but it's a confident group. Whoever they put us on the court with, we're willing to play with. Our record may not show it but we do have 26 wins. We think we can play with anybody."

The Rams' next test comes against Florida State on Friday night. 

"We're going to come confident and ready to play. They're a really good team. It's going to be a tough game but we're going to be ready -- especially me as I am from Florida."

The only Latino currently active in this year's tourney, Rodríguez hopes to advance a little further than fellow Puerto Rican Denis Clemente, second cousin to the baseball great Roberto Clemente, who last year made it to the Elite 8 with Kansas State.

"It feels good man," says Rodríguez. "You know it's a great thing. There are not a lot of Latinos playing college basketball. We had Denis Clemente last year doing his thing in the tournament. It feels good to take over his reign and keep it going."

Adry Torres, who has covered MLB, NFL, NBA and NCAA basketball games and related events, is a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. He can be reached at elpiloto137@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @adrytorresnyc.

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