Oregon State coach rebuilds almost from scratch
When Scott Rueck became the women's basketball coach at Oregon State, he inherited a team that lost 17 straight games in one stretch last season and was damaged by reports of player mistreatment.
The squad was down to two players and three recruits who were on the fence. Very little, if anything, was expected of the team.
But Rueck was undeterred, knowing that Oregon State - a ragtag group of walk-ons and others he persuaded to stay - really had nowhere to go but up.
So far this season, he's been right. Oregon State is 5-3, and while the players haven't yet faced the challenges they'll face in the Pac-10, almost everyone is surprised.
''Exceeded and surpassed,'' said forward El Sara Greer, a senior who returned from last season. ''People thought that we weren't going to have a coach, that we weren't going to have a team, period. That we weren't going to have five people to play. We're actually competing with people, and people can see it.''
Rueck, an Oregon State alum, came to the Beavers after 14 seasons at George Fox, a Division III Christian college in Newberg, Ore. The Bruins won the Div. III national championship in 2009.
In addition to the national title, Rueck led the team to six overall NCAA Div. III tournament appearances, advancing to the round of 16 five times, and three times to the round of eight. George Fox won the Northwest Conference championship seven times.
Coaching at his alma mater was a dream and he tossed his name into the mix the minute the job came open.
''This is the only other position that I ever would have considered going to. When it was offered to me I had to say yes,'' Rueck said. ''The opportunity to come back to my home school and get this program up and running and get it back to respectability and fix the negative situation that it was, was a challenge that was exciting to me.''
Former Oregon State coach LaVonda Wagner was fired after five years with the Beavers amid reports of player mistreatment.
Four players, including top scorer Talisa Rhea and top rebounder Kirsten Tilleman, were granted their release from the program in the space of a week in April. An assistant, Kellee Barney, also left the program last spring.
Two players had already left the program during the season, which was marked by a 17-game losing streak. Another player requested her release on June 1, when Wagner was dismissed.
While none of the players spoke of physical abuse, several told The Oregonian newspaper that they were told to play or practice hurt and subjected to verbal abuse. A report in the Corvallis Gazette-Times included allegations that the team was forced to practice as many as eight hours a day over Christmas break.
Rueck was able to convince the three recruits who had already signed on to come to Oregon State, despite the uncertainty. But then he was left with building a Division I roster almost from scratch.
So Rueck took a bold step in holding an open prospect camp for players. He could only promise walk-on status, with a chance at earning a scholarship somewhere down the road. Fifty-five young women showed up.
Rueck's roster today includes six scholarship players and four walk-ons.
''I feel really good. I'm really proud of what the team has accomplished to this point, and even more than that the way they've done it,'' he said. ''They've just come in and played hard every day, they're good teammates to each other, they're coachable and they're being rewarded for that, which is really exciting.''
Like his players, Rueck's having to make his own adjustments. His office is a good four times the size of the one he had at George Fox and he's actually got a staff of assistants.
Rueck says his players got a good early-season test against Rutgers and held their own in a 65-52 loss. The team's other losses came to Hawaii and Pepperdine, with victories against Long Beach State, Eastern Michigan, Cal State Northridge, UNLV and Cal State Bakersfield.
Because they're not yet proficient enough to shoot with consistency, Rueck has had his players focus on defense. The Beavers are limiting opponents to just 49.4 points per game and Rueck said he'll stick with the strategy until his players gain more confidence on the offensive end.
He's already made progress in addressing the toughest aspect of his task: The players are buying into the vision.
''More people are coming every time there's a home game. I know in the locker room we're fired up and ready. We're raising the bar every day, every practice, every game,'' said guard Sage Indendi, a redshirt sophomore.
Rueck couldn't be prouder.
''I think they've proven that they're resilient, they've proven that they're tough, and they've played with a lot of heart,'' Rueck said. ''So that has carried us to this point and it's going to be the reason why this group reaches its potential by the end of the season.''