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  • 27 Aug 2014

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Foundation sets quickly for Rueck, Beavers

If you knew where he came from, it wouldn’t surprise you what Scott Rueck is accomplishing with the women’s basketball program at Oregon State.

There was the farm in Scholls outside of Hillsboro, a 100-acre plot of land owned by the Rueck family since the early 1900s, a 10-minute drive from Scott’s boyhood home in Hillsboro. Once a dairy, later a chicken farm, it now is a walnut and hazelnut operation.

“My grandpa was one of nine siblings whose parents established the farm,” Rueck says. “I was out there all the time growing up. It was like my second home. I worked two summers there during high school. Then in October, the family would take part in harvest. We’d all have roles in harvesting.”

That includes Heidi, Scott’s sister who became an All-America point guard at George Fox (and teammate and best friend of Scott’s wife, Kerry) and later an assistant coach under Scott with the Lady Bruins. And mother Mary Lou. And father Marv, a former high school teacher and coach whose moonlighting gig was as a truck driver for Frito-Lay.

“Dad still does that part-time,” says Rueck, 43. “It was his way of making some extra money for the family. He was a teacher-coach for nine months, then he drove truck. He drove semis as far (northeast) as Montana and as far south as L.A. He loved his summers. He liked that routine, the changeup in his life. It’s that blue-collar blood in him.”

That’s what I’m getting at with Rueck, in his third season as coach of the Oregon State women. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty working at something. He had great role models in his parents.

“They never sit still,” Rueck says. “They’re high-energy people. If dad wasn’t at school or working in our yard, he was on the farm or driving truck. He was always going. That was my example growing up.

“I’m not saying I have my father’s work ethic. I’ve never seen a guy harder-working or more efficient than him. But there was an expectation of success. You roll your sleeves up and get the job done.”

That’s precisely what Rueck did in June 2010, when he walked into as big a mess as can be on the college athletic scene. Predecessor LaVonda Wagner had so alienated everyone within the program, only one player returned from the ‘09-10 team that finished 11-20 overall and 2-16 — including 15 straight losses — in Pac-10 play.

Rueck, an OSU alum whose 15 years as head coach at George Fox reaped 15 winning seasons, including the 2009 NCAA Division III championship, was starting from scratch, and too late in the year to acquire any talent of substance. He wound up with 11 squad members on his first team — six scholarship players, three walk-ons and a player borrowed from the volleyball and soccer teams. He had one player with Division I experience. The Titanic was less of a disaster.

But from the get-go, Rueck’s first OSU team competed. The Beavers went 9-21 overall and 2-16 in Pac-10 play, but nine of the conference losses were by single digits. They were competitive on most nights, even when at an extreme talent disparity.

“Craziest year of my life,” Rueck says. “I was experiencing professionally so many new things — a new coaching staff, being in more of a spotlight compared to where I was before ... everything was different. Then to have (players) we had to coach up and convince they were good enough to play with teams and make something out of the group — it was an awesome challenge as a coach.

“It was the first losing record I’ve had in my coaching career. Even when you’re expected to lose, it’s hard and it wears on you. It was a really trying year, but looking back on it, for what the team achieved both on the court and establishing a culture and in recruiting, it was one of the most rewarding years of my life.”

Pause.

“But I don’t want to experience it again,” he says with a light chuckle.

Rueck went into his second season, 2011-12, with a team predicted to finish last in the inaugural Pac-12. Imagine the surprise around the conference when the Beavers went 20-13 overall and 9-9 in league play, making the Sweet Sixteen of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament and earning Rueck Pac-12 coach of the year honors.

“It was almost magical,” he says. “There were leaders emerging and players deciding, ‘You know what, we’re going to be good. We’re going to find a way to make the postseason.’ For me, it was almost like, ‘I can’t believe what I’m watching.” It was still not easy, but another really rewarding year.”

The Beavers started slowly this season, falling at home to Cal Poly and Sacramento State and on the road to Loyola Marymount in the first five weeks. Part of the problem was the loss of senior point guard Sage Indendi for the season following November foot surgery. Indendi had followed Rueck to OSU from George Fox and was the undisputed team leader.

“Sage is the one who has taken and made the most big shots for us the past two seasons,” Rueck says. “She wants the ball when we need to make a basket, and she knows my system inside and out.

“You take that off a team that has as much youth and inexperience as this team, that’s going to impact you. It was a big setback at a key time of the year. We spent a lot of November doing things we should have been doing in October.”

Since Pac-12 play began the first week in January, the Beavers (9-9 overall, 3-3 in Pac-12 action), with four freshmen in the nine-player rotation, have started to come of age. They battled Southern Cal and UCLA to the wire, losing by one and four points; split with Arizona and Arizona State on the road and swept a pair from Oregon, including last Sunday’s 68-49 rout at Gill Coliseum, Rueck’s fifth straight win over the Ducks.

“It’s taken us awhile to wake up,” Rueck says. “But I feel like this team is improving. You can see it. They’re playing the right way, playing with a sense of urgency. Practices are more intense. Our freshmen are growing.

“We have a long way to go to reach our potential, but I’m excited about where we can go. The way we’re clicking now, I’m confident we’ll be in position to qualify for the postseason again by March.”

Rueck is a quiet but commanding presence on the OSU bench despite his stature, about which he can be both funny and self-effacing.

“I was 5-4 and 125 my senior year at Glencoe,” he says. “I’m the smallest guy to ever play in the Metro League. Have to be, right?”

Asked if there is anyone shorter than Rueck in his OSU program, he cracks, “I’m the smallest, and it needs to stay that way.”

The diminuitive frame is also an integral part of the Rueck DNA.

“In life, height usually wins,” he says, “but there’s a lot of positive about being small. It teaches you to be a fighter. I’ve had to battle.”

Rueck’s sterling freshman group, ranked No. 29 as a recruiting class nationally by one rating service, will be joined next fall by three elite high school signees — Sydney Wiese, a 6-1 point guard out of Phoenix who turned down Louisville, Rutgers, Iowa State and Oregon, among other schools; Gabby Hanson, a 5-11 wing from Fullerton, Calif., and Kolbie Orum, a 6-3 power forward out of Maple Ridge, British Columbia. Wiese is reputed to be one of the nation’s top shooting point guards while Hanson (Sweden) and Orum (Canada) both got extensive national junior team experience last summer.

A year ago, Rueck plucked a pair of in-state 6-3 plum recruits, current freshmen Deven Hunter (McNary) and Samantha Siegner (West Albany). Next step: Build the program to where national players such as Springfield’s Mercedes Russell and Central Catholic’s Jordan Reynolds — both headed for Tennessee — sign with the Beavers.

For now, Rueck says, “I’m really encouraged. I feel we’re ahead of where I even dreamed we’d be at this point. We have such a strong foundation already. I didn’t know if that would be possible up to this point.

“The conference is so difficult and everything is so fragile, but the foundation is what you build everything off. I think we’re going to be able to continue to attract athletes who want to be part of something special.”

It’s a cliche, but Rueck considers Oregon State his dream job.

“It still blows my mind what I’m getting to do,” he says. “I’m having a great time. It’s a constant challenge. You’re constantly being tested. The competitor in me, I love that. My family is flourishing in Corvallis. I love the people I work with. No complaints at all.”

Can Oregon State become a Pac-12 title contender? A regular participant in the nation’s top 25 and NCAA Tournament fields?

“When I took the job, that was my vision,” Rueck says. “That we make Oregon State a destination instead of an afterthought, or a team people think of in the bottom half of the conference.

“We want this to be a destination for women’s basketball. Nobody knew who we were when I went to George Fox. It took us 13 years to get to the top. Toward the end of my tenure there, recruiting became pretty easy. I’m hoping that’s what we’re in the beginning stages of that here.”

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Twitter: @kerryeggers