CORVALLIS, Ore. – 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.
He was down to two players and three recruits who were on the fence. Little, if anything, was expected of the team.
But Rueck was undeterred, knowing Oregon State – a ragtag group of walk-ons and others he persuaded to stay – 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 faced the challenges they’ll face in the Pac-10, almost everyone is surprised.
“Exceeded and surpassed,” said forward El Sara Greer, a returning senior. “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 Division III national championship in 2009.
In addition to the national title, Rueck led the team to six overall NCAA Division 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 amid reports of player mistreatment.
While none of the players spoke of physical abuse, several told the Oregonian newspaper 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 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.
“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.”