The story had some payoff in recent days when Rubin was named the Pac-10 Player of the Week. From walk-on to Pac-10 player of the week. It's not a common path.
"It felt good," Rubin said. "It shocked me really. I've been a walk-on, and just taking a backseat and watching for three years, and now I'm Pac-10 Player of the Week, so it was shocking."
Rubin came to UCLA in the fall of 2000 as the all-time leading scorer at Logan High school in Northern California, but with no illusions. Even though he was highly regarded in Northern California, he didn't have any scholarship offers out of high school. He walked on at UCLA, with an unusual sense of reality for a 18-year-old basketball player. "I came to UCLA because I wanted to get a good education, and then to play some basketball," Rubin said. "I thought if I worked hard I'd be able to possibly get a scholarship, but I didn't think I was this big star who people just were wrong about."
Rubin did work hard. Michael Holton, who is now the head coach at Portland and was an assistant at UCLA at the time, immediately saw some potential in Rubin. "He had the body and the quickness that I thought he'd be able to contribute at this level in some way. And as soon as he came to UCLA he showed he had the work ethic," Holton said.
Being a walk-on, though, is a different experience than being a scholarship player. Rubin said he thought he earned the respect of his teammates early on, to the point where they didn't treat him any differently because he was a walk-on. But he said there is a difference at UCLA if you're a walk-on as opposed to a scholarship player. "Once the other players respect you there's no problem with them. The difference in being a walk-on is money, for one thing. It's nice to have the money to pay for school. But then also sometimes when you'd meet someone and you'd tell them you played basketball at UCLA, they'd say, ‘Really? I've never seen you.' And they don't really know who you are."
In his true freshman season, he played in four games, including some Pac-10 games, for a total of five minutes. His sophomore year, Rubin redshirted, hoping the year would give him some time to stay up with his academics while also improving his game. Last season as a redshirt sophomore, he played in ten games, and in a blowout loss against Arizona, he scored 9 points, hitting three of three three-pointers. It opened some observers' eyes, and even Rubin's. "Even thought that game was horrible, it gave me some confidence last year," Rubin said.
Many observers, though, thought it was a fluke. This walk-on in his redshirt sophomore year, after never hitting a three before in a game, nails three three-pointers. His teammates, though, knew it wasn't. "Janou can play, and we always knew it," center Ryan Hollins said. "He's been like this in practice since I came here."
Rubin might not have a problem with people recognizing him now. He averaged 13 points a game during the Oregon weekend homestand, and was instrumental in both wins, hitting key shots, making smart passes and playing tough defense. For the week, he shot 64% from the field and 83% from three. Even if fans might not know him completely just yet, opposing teams and coaches now will. "Yeah, I expect it may not be as easy for me for now on," he said with a chuckle. "But if teams now have to guard me there will be someone else open on our team."
Rubin did have some reservations about being a walk-on at one point, though, and almost left UCLA. "When Coach Holton went to Portland, he offered me a scholarship., but I decided to stay. Then last year, I had some regrets that maybe I didn't take it. When the team wasn't doing well, and we were taking losses."
Luckily for UCLA, Rubin stayed on with the Bruins. And for Rubin, staying at UCLA has finally given him some rewards. Rubin said, "After the first week of practice, Coach Howland came up to me, shook my hand and said, ‘You have a scholarship. You've earned it.' It was a great feeling."
But even after getting his scholarship for the year, Rubin said he still realized he could do better and contribute more to the team. "At the beginning of the year, I did pretty well, but I still thought I could do better. Then my little brother, Jawaan, called me. He told me I was playing like a wuss. He said I used to play tougher and more aggressive. That kind of woke me up. I think it really helped me."
With the Rubin story, it all comes back to hard work and rewards. "He's a great kid who has worked hard since he's been at UCLA," Howland said. Holton said, "I'm really happy for him. Janou deserves it."
Rubin next year will almost certainly go back to being a walk-on. Howland needs to use the available scholarship for the incoming recruiting class. Rubin, though, has a good attitude about it, and, as always, puts his trust in one thing. "I'm just going to keep going, keep working as hard as I can. I've now seen what hard work can do, what opportunities it can open up for you. You never know what's going to happen. But if I keep working hard it seems like good things happen."