By Kristian Cuaresma
It’s a numbers game.
Connor ‘Shotz’ Rodrigues has played on four different NBA 2K League teams and has travelled nearly 8,000 miles between the cities he has represented.
Having just landed in town, Shotz looked out of his 15-story Brooklyn apartment feeling like he was both home and adrift at the same time. New York is a gargantuan concrete jungle and a far cry from Shotz’s hometown of 25,000, but the city has always had a knack for propping a big enough stage and shining a bright enough light for a worthy final act.
Could this finally be the one?
“I’m hoping and think this is my new home,” said Shotz. “It’s a new vibe and a new city every year so I definitely would like to get attached to a city and a team.”
Taken No. 40 overall by Blazer5 Gaming in the NBA 2K League’s inaugural draft, Shotz had everything he could want in a team. By the time his rookie year had concluded, his list of accomplishments included securing the number one seed in the regular season, a banner chain for winning THE TURN, and a runner up finish in THE TIPOFF. Despite an early exit in the playoffs, it was clear the future was bright in Portland.
“I didn’t want to leave,” said Shotz.
Outside of its playoff disappointment, the only thing capable of slowing down Blazer5 Gaming’s momentum was the circumstance the team found itself in during the ensuing offseason. With the successful launch of the league, expansion was inevitable and that meant roster turnover. At the time, Portland was already home to both the Season One MVP OneWildWalnut and future Season Two MVP Mama Im Dat Man.
“I was kind of the odd man out,” Shotz explained. “Any other season and I’m probably still on the Blazers.”
On his fourth team in four years, Shotz was once again the odd man out in Brooklyn in 2021. He was officially the locker room veteran, with not a single player on NetsGC having more than one year of league experience, however, this time, Shotz understood his newest home provided conducive conditions for him to take on a true leadership role. Whether he was mentally aware of it, Shotz had been preparing for this moment since his days in Portland. The Season One iteration of Blazer5 Gaming had an embarrassment of riches when it came to talent and leadership, and while Shotz was fully capable of spearheading a team, he was never required to take on the lead role.
“I’ve had glimpses in the past, but it was never fully there,” said Shotz.
His awareness and ability to accurately self-assess is one of Shotz’s most important attributes. The center is one of the brightest NBA 2K minds in the league, but he’ll also be the first to admit that leading others hasn’t always come naturally to him. Seeing what leadership looks like in action and knowing what it takes are merely precursors to consistently displaying the same behavior. Realizing this, Shotz made it one of his first goals upon arriving in Brooklyn to develop the mental side of being a leader, and so far, he feels like he has done that.
“Being that guy for everybody on the team that you can go to is kind of the difference now,” added Shotz. “I think in the long term that’s going to help myself and the team.”
For the NetsGC organization and its followers, it’s exciting to know Shotz is thinking about both the present and the future, especially considering he has historically not had the benefit of knowing what was next to come.
Although Portland sprinted out of the gates and quickly put together a foundation capable of sustained success still felt today, Shotz’s new Season Two home in Atlanta proved to be the opposite. A season of turmoil led to a frustrating 5-11 record and a one-game suspension for Shotz, ultimately capping what would be the only losing season of his career to date.
The NBA 2K League may still be in its infancy but it is no longer young enough for its founding players to have gone this long unscathed. Every great player in the league has gone through a low point, and for Shotz, his tenure in Atlanta represents that lull in his career.
“In Atlanta, it kind of went downhill,” Shotz said. “Things weren’t as smooth there.”
Shotz has had numerous teammates throughout his career, and he has crossed paths with various personalities and ideologies. By sheer volume alone, it’s no surprise the occasional clash of opinions has occurred along the way, but regardless of which jersey he was wearing, Shotz has always aimed to ensure his relationships don’t fall to the wayside.
“I’ve never had any bad blood with any teammates really,” said Shotz.
Shotz notes that he still talks to past teammates like Mama Im Dat Man, OneWildWalnut, Rando, and Jomar. Moving from team to team on a yearly basis has its advantages, specifically with bolstering one own’s social network. On the contrary, the complications that arise from this setup are also something Shotz has experienced, specifically with player movement and the rumor mill.
“There’s definitely player chatter,” explained Shotz. “It’s a really small circle so it just takes couple of people to say something, and you hear stuff.”
The NBA 2K League ecosystem of information and the news that comes out of it is growing every year, but with the community only in its fourth cycle, Shotz acknowledges news travels through its players but the tricky aspect of it is sifting through what is valid.
A similar methodology is often used by outsiders when it comes to NetsGC point guard Choc. Though Shotz wasn’t entirely familiar with Choc as a person, he had played with polarizing point guards before. And once he was finally able to take the court this past offseason with the charismatic sophomore, Shotz realized there was something special brewing in Brooklyn.
“I had never really played Pro-Am with him,” Shotz said. “But once I got traded to the Nets, we played one WR (Pro-Am League) season and some tournaments together and we saw what we had. Our chemistry was there.”
Sometimes, the right fit means a combination of natural chemistry and an ideal setting. For Shotz, the third stop in his professional career met those criteria.
“Being in California, I was pretty close to home,” said Shotz. “It was an hour train ride home and the location was great.”
Shotz’s tenure with Kings Guard Gaming wasn’t just a homecoming but also a return to the winning ways he had experienced with Blazer5 Gaming. Sacramento finished fifth in the standings with an 11-5 record built on an elite tier defense. Featuring two players on the Season Three ‘All-Defensive Team’ in Crush and Yusuf Scarbz, Kings Guard Gaming was a reprieve for Shotz from his tenuous situation with Hawks Talon GC.
For the first time in his career, Shotz had felt like he was where he belonged.
“I thought that was going to be it,” said Shotz. “I didn’t think I was going to be moved again.”
In early September of last year, Shotz was involved in blockbuster trade that sent him back to where it all began. Unfortunately for Shotz, this wouldn’t be a Prodigal Son type of return, with former teammates Mama Im Dat Man being shipped the other way and OneWildWalnut being traded to Sixers GC just over a month later. His original home in the league was gone and this meant he had to keep moving.
“This one was completely unexpected, but I was kind of a moving piece pretty much,” explained Shotz. “It wasn’t in the long-term plans to keep me and that’s when I started looking for other teams.”
His search ended when Memphis, Portland, and Brooklyn completed the first three-team trade in the history of the NBA 2K League. Shotz was now a member of NetsGC, marking the beginning of a new era for the organization that planned on building around him and Choc.
Despite the annual changes in Shotz’s professional life, the importance of home and family have always remained constant. Even before Shotz was traded to Sacramento, the California-native had a familiar face keep close tabs on him. Shotz’s father Louie Rodrigues is one of many parents proudly supporting their child’s gaming career in the NBA 2K League and has garnered a reputation as being one of the most passionate fans in the community.
“It’s cool to just have your family supporting everything you do,” said Shotz. “We need people like that as fans in the league and so for it to be my dad is even cooler…he just shows a lot of love.”
With Shotz’s seemingly never-ending movement from team to team, his father’s fandom quickly evolved into extensive knowledge on the league’s storylines and players. Shotz often spent previous offseasons with excessive time on his hands and nothing to account for it. Wanting to break the habit, he capitalized on his father’s understanding of the NBA 2K League to give life to something he and his family had always wanted to do, and that is how the Shotz & Popz podcast was created.
The podcast is a complete family affair, edited by Shotz’s sister, and featuring Shotz and his father co-hosting with a chemistry that has clearly been developed over countless closed-door conversations that likely could serve as pilot episodes.
“Whenever we’re in the same room we’re just debating or talking about sports,” said Shotz. “We might as well share a little bit of that.”
The duo has come a long way since the airing of their first episode back in March. With their 20th episode quickly approaching and the possibility of expanding to Twitch in the future, Shotz may no longer be playing his home state, but he’ll always have a piece of home regardless of where he goes.
With the right amount of determination and support, a new routine can often lead to a new habit. For Shotz, there was no better place than his newest home of New York to test this belief. Since he arrived the NetsGC center became interested in making changes to improve his physical health and has been going on daily lengthy morning walks, playing basketball and consistently going to the gym.
“I had always tried to get better at it, but I wasn’t doing it long term and it was hard for me to do it thirty days straight,” said Shotz. “It was just a mindset thing and when I got here, I wanted to do something every day.”
Shotz also became more mindful of his diet, diligently watching what he ate and only occasionally ordering takeout. The results are impressively obvious after taking once glance at him.
Now, in 2021, more than anything, Shotz just wants to be somewhere where he can win.
“You obviously want to win a championship, but the main thing is to be a contender,” Shotz said. “We just need to put ourselves in the playoffs and give ourselves a chance to compete.”
NetsGC currently holds the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a 15-11 record. An undeniable reason for the team’s success can be directly attributed to Shotz’s consistent performance. The center is averaging 18.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and nearly 1.0 blocks while shooting 80 percent from the field.
He has had more than 21 different teammates but has never had the same teammate twice. He has finished near the top of the standings and has experienced the bottom of it as well. And on more than one occasion, he has experienced home only to have it taken away.
In Brooklyn, Shotz has an opportunity to break a cycle that has unfairly and carelessly tossed him from city to city – especially for a player of his caliber.
“At this point, it’s time for me to stay somewhere,” said Shotz. “I just want to build with teammates and come back to the same city once…I just want to experience that.”
For anyone paying close attention, this was less of a new Shotz and more of a different Shotz. The type of man he wanted to be off the sticks and the player he felt he was on the virtual court has never changed. The only difference now is in Brooklyn, Shotz has fully embraced who he can be.