Coach Scott Rueck leads Oregon State among nation's elite
CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) After Oregon State coach Scott Rueck cut down the net to celebrate the team's first regular-season Pac-12 title, he was asked whether he envisioned the Beavers' quick ascent five years ago when he took over a program in shambles.
''No, not a chance,'' he said.
And yet here his team is today, having snapped mighty Stanford's run of 14 straight regular-season championships.
The eighth-ranked Beavers are the top seed in the Pac-12 tournament starting Thursday in Seattle. With a bye to start, Oregon State faces the winner of the opening-round game between USC and Colorado.
''I didn't know exactly if we could ever get here. I hoped. For sure, I hoped,'' said Rueck, who was named Pac-12 coach of the year Tuesday. ''To be here in five years? If you understand this whole game and how it's hard to do it quick, you can't really do it quick. It's just a grind. There are so many things that factor. So this is remarkable.''
Before coming to Corvallis, Rueck spent 14 years at Division III George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, where he compiled a 288-88 record.
He guided the Bruins to six Division III tournament appearances, advancing to the round of 16 five times, and three times to the round of eight. The Bruins won the championship in 2009 and he was named coach of the year.
In July 2010 he was hired by Oregon State, his alma mater, but faced a considerable challenge. The school had fired predecessor LaVonda Wagner after five disappointing years marked by reports of player discontent and even mistreatment.
Four players, including the top scorer and top rebounder, had asked for and were granted their release from the team at the end of what would turn out to be Wagner's final season, joining two others that had bailed earlier. An assistant coach also abruptly left the program that spring.
Rueck was left with just five players; two from the previous season, two incoming freshmen and a junior college transfer. He had to hold open tryouts to fill the rest of his roster.
One of the freshmen was Alyssa Martin, who played at Portland's Jesuit High School and fully embraced Rueck's philosophy. Although the Beavers went 9-21 that first season, the next year they improved to 20-13 and played in the NIT.
Martin was a senior last year when the Beavers returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 18 seasons. Oregon State finished 24-11 overall after a second-round loss to South Carolina.
The team has already bettered that record this season, going 26-3 to set a new school record for wins.
Perched atop a ladder to snip at the net Saturday following Oregon State's clinching 73-55 victory over California, Rueck spotted Martin in the crowd at Gill Coliseum.
''I already thought in my head that Alyssa's getting part of this net. I'm cutting a piece for her,'' Rueck said. ''She was the first one. She didn't get to be a part of this team, but this team wouldn't be this team without her. She's was our rock for four years.''
Sophomore guard Sydney Weise said she was certain that Rueck had Oregon headed in the right direction when she settled on Oregon State.
''My parents and I always talked about not choosing a Stanford, not choosing a UConn, something that's established. I wanted to help establish something. I think most of us, probably all of us, wanted to establish something here,'' Weise said. ''We wanted to go somewhere we could shock the nation and be able to upset people and get to where we are right now.''
Rueck's philosophy for the team can be summed up in the slogan on the Beavers' warmup jerseys: ''Leave No Doubt.''
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said Oregon State is doing just that.
''Oregon State is legit,'' she said. ''They are for real. They have everything you need: perimeter game, post game, offense, defense, rebounding. I'm really excited for Scott and their team.''