North Idaho College basketball coach Corey Symons will tell you that Florida State senior guard Braian Angola is a great kid and a wonderful player, and he has the stories to prove it.
Angola’s story is truly unique. He only knew a handful of English words when he left his native Colombia to play at national power Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada, where one of his teammates was former Zag Nigel Williams-Goss.
Findlay Prep founder Cliff Findlay, who has ties to North Idaho as a member at Black Rock, told Symons about Angola, a talented but raw 6-foot-6 guard. Everything was set until tragedy struck.
Angola’s father died of a heart attack about two weeks before he was supposed to come to Coeur d’Alene and he initially wanted to remain in Colombia.
“His family kind of stepped in and he’s a really smart kid,” Symons said. “It was more them convincing him he needed to get his education and do what he can to take care of his mom and sisters.”
Angola blossomed, leading the Cardinals to a No. 1 ranking in 2016 when they opened the season with 31 straight wins. He was the Region 18 player of the year and junior college All-American.
“Hands down probably the best player I’ve ever coached,” said Symons, who has been at NIC for 14 years, the last four as head coach. “He kind of did everything.”
Angola did it against some of NIC’s best competition.
“We play CSI (College of Southern Idaho) at home and they box-and-one him,” said Symons, who will attend the Gonzaga-Florida State game Thursday in Los Angeles. “He scored the first 12 or 15 points. He started off at the 3-point line, then backed up to 25 feet, then 30, just horrible shots in a coach’s mind but he was making them.”
CSI coach Jared Phay, Symons’ former boss at NIC, had seen enough and made eye contact with Angola’s defender. “The kid looked back at him like, ‘What do you want me to do, he’s back near half court,’ ” Symons recalled.
Dozens of D-I programs came calling, including the Zags, but they had a backlog of players at the point/combo guard position, including Williams-Goss, Symons said.
Angola picked Florida State, in part because Tallahassee is a short flight from Colombia. He’s emerged as a starter and top perimeter shooter in his second season. He’s second on the team in scoring, assists and steals. He ranks first with 63 3-pointers.
One of the best images of the season is a video showing Angola’s mom, Ofelia Rodas Orozco, surprising her son on Senior Night and the waterworks that followed. She made an eight-hour drive to the nearest airport in Colombia to catch a flight to attend.
Symons’ and NIC assistant George Swanson’s surprise visit the day before Senior Night comes in a close second. They were hanging out in Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton’s office when Hamilton called and asked Angola to stop by.
“He started crying because the two of us were sitting there,” Symons said. “He’s like a son to us.”
Statistics aside, Angola has made an indelible impression on his FSU’s program and the community, just like he did at NIC.
“He truly cares about people,” Symons said. “We went out to dinner in Florida and Braian ordered something and they said they took it off the menu a few weeks ago. He ordered something else and a little while later the owner comes out and says, ‘You didn’t tell me it was for Braian. We’ll make it for him.’ ”
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