You see it frequently in college basketball.
An oxygen-deprived player waves his hand at the bench, looking for the coach to rescue him for a few minutes.
That is, however, one of the very few things you won’t see Gonzaga University’s Jason Rubright doing on a basketball court.
Having fought so hard for so long to get on the floor - overcoming injury, controversy, rampant skepticism and a few of his own self-doubts - it is only with great reluctance he is now willing to come off that floor.
“I’m having so much fun, I want to be out there all the time. I don’t ever want to go sit on the bench,” the 23-year-old senior said.
Well, he doesn’t have to sit much, having started at power forward every game as GU has rolled to a 10-1 record.
The GU staff probably kept a tub of White-Out handy when writing in Rubright’s name in the starting lineup before the season - seeing sophomore transfer Paul Rogers as a talented challenger for that position.
But Rubright’s emergence and consistent play have allowed the Bulldogs to bump the 6-foot-11 Rogers over to center.
“He’s definitely got it to the point where there’s no doubt that it’s his job; there’s nobody going around thinking they should be playing instead of Rube,” GU coach Dan Fitzgerald said of Rubright.
That is certainly true. Consider the 6-7 Rubright a college hoop anomaly. How many players, after all, can lead their teams in rebounds (6.2 per game) and also in 3-point shooting percentage (57.9 - having made 11 of 19)?
What this production has done, aside from help the Bulldogs to the best start in their history, is validate Fitzgerald’s faith in Rubright.
“We took a lot of heat,” Fitzgerald said of the decision to sign Rubright from Gonzaga Prep. “All the guys who buy 40-cent beers had an opinion on why we shouldn’t have taken him. So, he was a suspect more than a prospect, but other people saw (promise) there, too. Washington State and Washington both looked at him, too.”
What did Fitzgerald see in Rubright? Mostly his skeletal structure if his shirt was off.
“He’s no Adonis right now, but he’s gotten a lot stronger and he’s always been willing to stick his face in there and battle.
“He’s a guy who wants to be a banger in there, but it’s hard for Olive Oyl to get in there and bang,” Fitzgerald joked.
“I weigh about 200 or 205 now, but I came in at about 170 - maybe - and it’s been an uphill battle the whole way, a lot of time in the weight room,” Rubright said. “I’ve tried every possible nutritional supplement you can buy - that’s legal - but nothing really works except hitting the weights.”
Which has made considerable difference.
“He’s a guy who has gotten better every year by working hard,” GU assistant coach Mark Few said. “He’s somebody who is in the weight room every day all summer long.”
Rubright’s story is intriguing. His mother, now a high school French teacher, spent three years as the personal, private secretary to Princess Grace of Monaco. “We still get cards from the palace at Christmas,” Rubright said.
His father is a social worker with Child Protective Services.
When the family moved from Kettle Falls to Spokane, and Rubright transferred to Gonzaga Prep before his senior season, controversy flared.
Charges that he had been improperly induced to transfer, or that the move didn’t satisfy requirements of the high school regulatory agency, caused lengthy debate and hearings.
The move, Rubright said, was so his family could assist his grandmother, who had recently lost her husband, and not for athletic reasons.
He played his first five games that season under a court injunction, and eventually the move was certified. The effects on Rubright, though, were extensive.
“I had a terrible senior season; I don’t think I averaged in double figures,” he said. “I had the feeling that nobody liked me, that everybody thought I was a criminal or a crook or something.”
At GU, he broke a wrist in practice his sophomore season and has been a role player most of the time until this year.
“There was a lot of skepticism when I came here, people saying ‘he can’t play D-I, he’s not big enough, not strong enough,”’ Rubright said. “But I always knew I could play, I just didn’t know when.”
Now is certainly the time, as he has assumed a role as a team leader.
“I’m so proud of this guy,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s tough-minded. A lot of guys reach a point where they wake up and realize they’re not going to be NBA guys, that the Sonics aren’t on the phone. And there’s two ways you can go after that, you can just go through the motions or do like Rube has and bust your butt every single day.
“He may have a poor night some time, but he’s never going to give us anything less than his best effort,” Fitzgerald said.
It is in that way, Rubright assesses, that he fits in at GU.
“I think I’m a typical Gonzaga player; good in school, not superathletic, not the type of guy who can go out and score 40 points on his own, a guy who needs four other guys on the floor, and a guy who only cares about one statistic - us winning,” he said.
A 3.0-point student in pre-physical therapy, Rubright has done volunteer work at a traumatic-brain-injury unit at a local hospital.
“That’s opened my eyes to a lot of things and it’s something I want to get into in a clinic or a hospital setting,” he said. “There’s a sense of satisfaction when a person comes in badly injured and you can work with them and see them make progress because of it. It seems like a way I can give something back, to help society the best I can.”
A nice sentiment.
But they’re going to have to get chains and winches to get him off the basketball court first.
A brave girl jumps from the rocks on the west side of Tubbs Hill as her two friends watch. (Don Sausser/Facebook photo)
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