MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – When Alex Ruoff committed to John Beilein’s basketball program last August, he thought he had a pretty good idea what he was getting himself into. He liked the players on the team, he knew Beilein was a great guy, and he was comfortable with the campus.
What he didn’t realize was just how good the West Virginia program has become.
“I knew they had a bunch of nice guys and the coaching staff was great, but the intensity level here … I didn’t really expect that coming into it,” he said.
More to the point, Ruoff was surprised how good some of the players were, particularly senior guard Joe Herber.
“That was the biggest shock,” he admitted. “When I came on my recruiting visit he wasn’t here at the time and when I first started playing with him and I saw how good he is … he just impressed me so much. I had no idea he was that good.”
Right now Ruoff is trying to fit into a team that returns five experienced seniors and four starters from last year’s 24-11 squad that advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Ruoff says when West Virginia was making its run last March he made it a point to remind everyone where he was going to school.
“I actually had an all-star event before I came up for the summer and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to West Virginia … you guys saw what school that is and you saw how far they went in the NCAA tournament.’ It was kind of fun.”
Teasing his all-star teammates was certainly more fun than his senior season that was really finished before it ever got started. Ruoff was averaging 30 points and about 12 rebounds a game when he suffered a season-ending leg injury in December. By that time, though, Ruoff had already signed with West Virginia after averaging about 22 points and nine rebounds per game as a junior at Central High School in Spring Hill, Fla.
“Eight games into the season I was playing on a Sunday in a pickup game and I hurt myself which led to me sitting out most of the rest of the season except for one game,” Ruoff said.
The sweet-shooting 6-foot-6-inch forward did his research when he picked West Virginia. He sat down with his high school coach John Sedleck and examined all of his options.
“I had a lot of mid-major offers and I visited Miami, Ohio, before I came to West Virginia,” Ruoff said. “The decision was to either go mid-major or high-major. My high school coach really helped me make my decision. He is like a second father to me.”
Miami, Ohio, was of particular interest to Ruoff because he used to live in Hamilton, Ohio, near Cincinnati before moving to Florida in 1998. Ruoff said he grew up following Bobby Huggins’ Cincinnati Bearcats program.
Ruoff still has an aunt that lives in Ohio and he keeps in touch with his old basketball coach there. A combination of many different factors led Ruoff to decide that West Virginia was the right school for him – a choice he says he’s happy he made. Still, it has taken him a while to adjust to Morgantown.
“The media guide can only tell you so much,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a bunch of mountains and I’m from the complete flatlands. I had to get used to all of the steps.”
Alex is also struggling with a recent cold spell and a winter storm that dumped more than five inches of snow on the ground earlier this week.
“I haven’t bought a winter coat yet but I’ve looked online the other day to get one,” he said. “Even when it was getting down into the 50s, I was already starting to complain to the other guys and they were just looking at me and laughing.”
Presently Ruoff is backing up Mike Gansey at the three-position. He’s also learning the two-guard spot as well. If he can learn the offense and continue to improve there is a possibility he could crack the team’s top-eight rotation.
“Coming in I knew all of the seniors would be back and I knew how much opportunity would be there,” Ruoff said. “I’m definitely concentrating on making the other players that are actually starting better. When I get in Coach really wants me to concentrate on rebounding and just not hurt the team – just hit the open shots and get in there and do the best that I can.”
Ruoff developed a reputation in high school for being a good shooter, but he didn’t realize just how good of a shooter you have to be to play in John Beilein’s system.
“I was pretty confident that I was a good shooter coming out of high school but you come here and you’re pretty much on the back of the wagon,” Ruoff said. “Everyone here is a great shooter.”
That includes the big men like 6-foot-11-inch Kevin Pittsnogle and 7-foot Butler transfer Jamie Smalligan.
“Smalligan is an unbelievable shooter,” Ruoff said. “It’s unreal how big he is and how well he can shoot. It makes you work that much harder on defense because one slow step and it is three points right in your face.”
In addition to improving his shooting stroke, Ruoff is also learning how to use screens to get open.
“Patrick Beilein is the best at getting open,” he said. “There are a lot of techniques you can learn to get open.”
And Alex Ruoff is learning them.