Featured Stories

Kyle Ruege blossoms in summer league for Lions

Incoming senior hopes to lead St. Helens out of nine-year state playoff drought and earn first-team all-league honors

JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Incoming St. Helens senior Kyle Ruege splits a pair of Forest Grove defenders during the Lions' summer league contest against the Vikings on Wednesday evening at Forest Grove High School. Despite his short stature, Ruege has big plans for his senior season in St. Helens.When basketball season rolls around in December, it will mark a sobering nine seasons since the St. Helens boys last saw a winning campaign — 2006-07, the first year of the newly-formed NW Oregon Conference. Things have been ugly since then, with just one postseason victory and zero appearances in the state playoffs.

Enter Kyle Ruege, the diminutive guard who hasn't waited until the beginning of basketball season to get a jump start on his dreams — some of which are bigger than the future senior's 5-foot-seven frame.

“I wanted to be a top-three player in the league,” he said, remarking that an idol of his was 2014 senior Tanner Long, a former teammate in both basketball and track and field. “That's what I wanted for my year. Lead my team in scoring, make play-ins, win a playoff game, put St. Helens on the map — stuff like that.”

It's a hefty challenge. The NW Oregon Conference had five teams qualify for the round of 16 in the Class 5A playoffs, and saw Wilsonville advance to the title game before falling to Silverton. Parkrose will return athleticism, Wilsonville talent and experience, and from La Salle, a chip on the collective shoulders of the Falcons, who lost to Silverton in the first round.

But for head coach Scott Archer, who enters his first full summer with the program, Ruege's mindset is a good sign.

“He had a goal; he wasn't satisfied with being an all-league honorable-mention,” Archer said on Wednesday. “He wanted to fight for a first-team spot, and that's really hard because we have a guard-heavy, [guard-]dominated league and guys returning, but I appreciate the lofty goal. That's what we need. You need the big, hairy, audacious goals, as they say, if you're going to do anything good.”

Ruege was one of seven players to take the court for the St. Helens summer league squad on Wednesday evening in a tough but entertaining loss to Forest Grove. The group normally has enough for a regular rotation, but injuries, other activities and hit-and-miss attendance dwindled the group down to the bare minimum.

Ruege was forced to play almost the entire game, which is made up of two 20-minute halves with running clocks. He scored the first two points to tie the game with the Vikings before a short-handed Lion team was buried, but the growth and development of his game was undeniable.

At one point, Ruege had two defenders on roller skates. The crossover has been an age-old weapon for Ruege, who said he hopes to emulate two professionals, Steph Curry and Chris Paul — both of whom share his small stature.

He said the crossover has been a favorite since his early days in youth basketball, and it fits in with his arsenal of moves, many of which are befitting of one who lacks the size to bang shoulders in the post. Ruege said the move is all about the feet — where they're planted, whether they're planted and which way they're facing — and has gotten a little easier once he learned how to read a defense.

After the opponent is left to scramble and chase him, he'll float a shot over the outstretched hand of a post player, or look for an open teammate. Either way, the defense is forced to collapse.

It seems to be the results of hard work and a fiery determination for Ruege, who assumed a large role last season after graduating seniors — notably, Tanner Long — left an open hole.

“He's been at every practice, almost every weightlifting session, he's been at all the tournaments we've had,” Archer said. “And we need more guys like him, because it can't just be one guy coming to those things and doing that. He's held up his end of the bargain, and we'll continue to get better.”

Archer sees about 10 or 12 guys competing for around seven roster spots come this winter. They've had many of the expected pieces show up throughout the spring and summer, but not the turnout he'd like — or at least the turnout he hopes for.

“If things are going to change for St. Helens, it has to start with sweat equity, and it has to start in May, June and July — or else this repeats on and on, and St. Helens gets back the bare minimum investment that they're making right now,” Archer said, passionately. “There's a core group that's doing everything we've asked of them, we just need more than three or four guys. It's got to be 12 or 15.”

Ruege definitely appears to be at the center of the core group, often running the point on offense against Forest Grove and beginning to assume a more vocal leadership position. He said he plans to get stronger before the season begins, but Wednesday's snapshot suggests the most important muscle is in good condition: the heart.