Rising Star: Meet Ivan Gandia-Rosa

By: David Swets and DeAndre Pearson

It’s a particularly cold day at the University of North Florida, not to mention an early one
as several students trudge across campus to their respective classes. One of these many students is Iván Gandía-Rosa, a sport management major from Puerto Rico. Gandía-Rosa, however, has much more on his mind than the average student.

Not too long ago, Gandía-Rosa was not sure if his family was still alive. During Hurricane Irma, his family had lost connection with him and he had no way of knowing if they
were okay.

“It was tough,” Gandía-Rosa said in an interview. “I was here. They were there. Like I
couldn’t do absolutely anything…I just had to keep doing what I was doing over here and just and just pray.”

What Gandía-Rosa does “here” at UNF is play basketball and play it at a very high level.

“He’s a top-notch competitor. His work ethic is unbelievable and he always strives to be
the greatest he can be. Not to mention, he’s a great teammate and a great leader.”

These are the words of team manager Marlin Lagesse who has known Gandía-Rosa since
he joined the team in 2017.

Gandía-Rosa got his start in basketball in his hometown of Caguas in Puerto Rico. He
started playing early with his cousin who was three years older than him.

“I was always playing ages older than me. So that really helped me grow,” Gandía-Rosa
said. From his start in Puerto Rico, Gandía-Rosa moved to Huntington, West Virginia at the young age of fifteen to play basketball.

“Being away from your family at fourteen and fifteen is really hard. You miss them a lot.
But, like, eventually you get used to it.”

From West Virginia, Gandía-Rosa started his collegiate career at the junior college level
in Ocala, Florida at the College of Central Florida.

“It wasn’t long after that that Coach Driscoll saw me and then I came here to
Jacksonville.”

“Out of the blue he called and said ‘Coach, I got a guy that’s perfect for you,’” that was
the start of how Coach Driscoll began recruiting Gandía-Rosa.

The coach at CCF had always had a good relationship with Coach Driscoll, but none of the recruits had ever really stuck or seemed to fit Driscoll’s UNF system.

“So, when he called we knew that we had to go down and see him.” Driscoll said in an
interview that he took the entire staff down to see Gandía-Rosa and they recruited him hard, offering him a scholarship after only a few days after first meeting him. A month after the visit, Gandía-Rosa committed.

Gandía-Rosa’s growth on the court may be directly related to the struggles he’s faced off
the court. Or so Coach Driscoll believes. The language barrier was one of the biggest struggles of Gandía-Rosa’s transition to life in the States. He knew English before he came to the US, but he had to get much better at it faster.

The other major struggle is being away from his family. But that’s not enough. Every
year, while Gandía-Rosa is just getting back into offseason workouts, his home is rocked by hurricanes. The last of which tore through Puerto Rico and really had him on edge.

“All I could see on social media was devastation…everybody just losing everything…it
was hard.” Gandía-Rosa just had to wait for his family to reach out to him. Finally, his father did call him from his grandmother’s house where his family was staying. He said that he could hear the sound of wind rushing through the phone.

His family lost everything. The structure of the house remained undamaged, but Gandía-
Rosa described in depth the extent of the damage that the interior of his childhood home
suffered. But again, the optimistic Driscoll believes that his very life-changing event did more good than harm.

“I think the hurricane destroying his home. Uncertainty of his family and where they
gonna be and where they were gonna go. It never stopped what he wanted futuristic, long-term.”

Gandía-Rosa’s long-term goal is to make it to the next level.

“Yeah, I want to make it to the next-level and play overseas, but if not I want to coach
basketball.”

And why basketball?

“Because it’s beautiful.”