And yet, when game time rolls around, there's Ruoff, in the starting lineup and playing a key role for the Mountaineers. He's seemingly had to fight off challenges, as well as disrespect, ever since he has donned a WVU uniform. And while his spot in the starting lineup is all but assured for this year, he will again be overshadowed – this time by a quartet of talented newcomers who will likely grab the lion's share of pre-season attention.
Outwardly, that's o.k. with Ruoff, who doesn't crave the spotlight. Inwardly, however, it probably stokes a competitive fire that few can match. For whenever Ruoff is told he can't do something, or that he has a shortcoming in his game, he immediately goes to work to fix it. Tell him he's too slow to guard in the Big East, and he uses his lighting quick hands to rack up steals and hound opposing ball handlers. Repeat the charge that his only offensive game is a three-pointer, and he'll work to develop post up moves and drives to the hoop to round out his repertoire. Tell him, as a select handful did, that he wasn't good enough to play in the top league in the nation, and he'll prove you wrong – again and again.
Like any drive player, there's a touch of bravado in Ruoff's game on the court. He'll leave his hand hanging high in the follow through after draining a three. He'll acknowledge WVU's student section after a big play, and get them involved. And he certainly won't back down from opponents – he's been known to exchange a few words with foes. None of that, however, comes out off the court, where Ruoff maintains a cool and calm demeanor. That exterior, though, belies the fire within.
As he prepares for his senior season, Ruoff is also taking on another expanded role – that of an on the court leader. Although the steady two guard has filled that spot in past seasons, he'll be at the top of that chart this year, what with the departure of Darris Nichols to Europe. Like every other challenge he has taken on (and conquered) to date, he has been working since day one to be a success in that role as well.
For example, Ruoff and the other veterans used open gym time before the official start of practice to help some of the newcomers get ready.
"We've been teaching plays after open gym. We've been trying to get in a new play every day," Ruoff explained "That way we don't have to waste time in our full practices with the coaches to do those things."
Ruoff also motivated everyone to work as hard as possible during pre-season conditioning. A veteran of Bob Huggins' relentless practices, Ruoff knows that every drop of sweat shed during September and October helps during the grueling season to come.
"All we can do is warn the freshmen [about the toughness of practice]," Ruoff laughed. "But I think that motivates us to put more work in during the preseason, to get in better shape."
Ruoff was also a leader during the run-up to the start of practice, and noticed several differences with the regimen of new basketball strength and conditioning coach Andy Kettler.
"He has worked us really hard, and we only had him for a short time over the summer," Ruoff observed. "Coach Huggs knows what he's doing when he picks them. We had some pretty gruesome workouts with him. One of the biggest differences is that we're doing fewer Olympic lifts with the power bar. We're doing more resistance work with the bands. That helps to develop explosiveness. You can really feel that on the court."
Quicker and higher jumping and running should translate to better play, and fits right in with Ruoff's stated goal of getting to the rim more as a senior. Along with that, he'd like to increase his minutes as well, but realizes that better conditioning for all, along with shared playing time, could result in a deeper March run.
"I want to play the whole game, but it would be nice to get a couple minutes [of rest] here and there," he admitted. "With the depth we have this year, we can have confidence in them [on the court]. That would be great."
As those young players develop, there will be no doubt that they'll learn many lessons from Ruoff. The vast majority of those will be behind the scenes – in the weight room, on the practice floor and in film study. For a player who has never been the guy in the spotlight, that's probably fitting. But it certainly doesn't make them any less important.