Angel Nunez walked into the weight room at the Winchendon School in Massachusetts with a puzzled look on his face.
At Cardinal Hayes HS, he didn’t enter such places. But at the Massachusetts prep school, it is mandatory.
“When he said weight room,” recalled Nunez, referring to Michael Byrnes, his new coach, “I was like what?”
It is far from the only change in Nunez’s life.
This summer he left the hustle and bustle of Harlem, the only home he had ever known, for the quiet suburbs of a new state. He was suddenly on his own, away from his mentor, Eric Martinez. Nunez was responsible for rising early for classes, arriving at workouts on time, doing his own laundry and fixing himself meals.
Instead of traveling across the country with the Bronx-based New York Gauchos, his AAU basketball team, during the live recruiting period in July, the rising junior was in a classroom, taking two summer classes to catch up.
Nunez felt the move was necessary. He was struggling in the classroom at Cardinal Hayes. The program faces an uphill climb next season after an 11-14 campaign under first-year coach Joe Lods. Martinez and his coaches with the Gauchos all agreed leaving was the prudent move. Then another voice, Francisco Garcia of the Sacramento Kings, who came from Harlem and left for the Winchendon School, chimed in.
“He said it’s cool out there, but you’re gonna have to focus,” said Nunez, who has gotten to know Garcia, through Martinez, the last few years.
Wanting to make the McDonald’s All-American game and play for a top Division I program, like Garcia, he listened.
The first few weeks were rough, Nunez said. His freedom was restricted. As Garcia had warned, his life boiled down to eating, sleeping, studying, playing basketball and working out.
After getting adjusted, he began to realize why he was out in Massachusetts.
“It helped me become more serious and see the bigger picture,” he said. “To see the steps I got to take. Doing this means I really love this game and I’m doing it for a reason.”
Martinez said when Nunez, 17, came back to Harlem in late August, he saw a slightly different person – humble and self-motivated. There were too many distractions, Martinez said, in New York City.
“He’s becoming a young man, off the court,” Martinez said.
On the court, he is starting to mature, too, growing into that lanky frame. Although still rail-thin, he now weighs 184 pounds, 10 more than when he decided to attend Winchendon.
He performed well enough in the previous recruiting period to catch the eye of at least a few major Division I programs. The 6-foot-8 Nunez, who can play inside and out, hit from the perimeter jumper as well as finish in the paint, has received scholarships offers from St. John’s, Memphis, Indiana, West Virginia, UConn and Louisville.
Nunez said the increased interest came as a surprise. He didn’t feel unworthy of the adulation, but he expected it to take longer.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “Nobody knew me last year.”
A lot has changed for him recently.