Scott Rueck has turned women’s basketball at his alma mater Oregon State into an elite program since taking over in June, 2010. Despite inheriting only two players, Rueck went to work recruiting and on the court for the turnaround. In 2013-2014 the Beavers tied for second place in the final Pac-12 standings, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996. Last season they set a school-record 27 wins and were Pac-12 regular season title holders. OSU spent much of the year ranked in the top 25, with several weeks in the top ten, as they have this season.
Prior to returning to Corvallis, Rueck spent 14 years as the head coach at Division III George Fox University, where he compiled a 288-88 record. He guided the team to a national championship in 2009.
Rueck began his coaching career as a high school assistant coach in Oregon. He joined George Fox, where his sister played at the time, as an assistant coach before being named to the top spot two years later. He and wife Kerry Rueck have three children.
Sue Favor: Did you play basketball yourself?
Scott Rueck: Yes. I’m a coach’s son, as my dad was a high school coach and I grew up in a gym since I was old enough to be in one. I was praying for a big growth spurt that never happened. Barry Adams was my first coach, and I grew up in his program in the metro league suburbs of Portland.
I decided to go to OSU because my mom went there, and although I was 5-foot-4 and 120 pounds my senior year, I played varsity and went on to play in Corvallis. It was in me because I’m from a basketball family.
Sue Favor: How have you developed such a great understanding of the game?
Scott Rueck: Being in the game and being around the game so long, you get it. Also, the fact that I’m small has meant I’ve had to be a technical player; I’ve had to learn angles and tricks just to survive. I was a head coach at 27, and because I was so young I haven’t had a ton of mentors, so I’ve had to glean stuff on my own. I’ve never been afraid to ask questions.
Sue Favor: Is the current state of OSU basketball the way you envisioned it when you took over the program?
Scott Rueck: It’s what I hoped for. I knew I wanted a culture like I had at George Fox, where excellence was the expectation. I saw the (Gary) Payton days when Gil (Coliseum) was going crazy in my mind. I didn’t know if it was possible when I took the job, but I went in hoping for it and willing to work hard to get it.
Sue Favor: What were the most important things you learned while coaching at George Fox?
Scott Rueck: One is how important character is within a roster; you have to recruit preventatively. I never settle in the character aspect – anyone I recruit has to be a team person.
Another thing I learned is that there are lots of ways to win. My first eight years as a head coach, I ran man-to-man defense. In my ninth year I ran zone for the first time. In my tenth year I ran nothing but zone, and we won a national championship.
Sue Favor: What does it mean to you to coach at your alma mater? Did you ever imagine you’d end up there?
Scott Rueck: No, I didn’t. At George Fox, people would joke with me: “when are you going to move on?” But I had no offers. By my mid-thirties, I was wondering if this was all I was going to do. I decided (George Fox) was awesome because I was close to my parents, it was a school I believed in, and we won all the time. I always kidded that the only job I would consider leaving for was OSU.
It was early 2010 and we were still riding high from the championship the previous season, and OSU let (previous coach) LaVonda (Wagner) go. I called the former athletic director and asked him if I should put my hat in the ring. I just wanted an on-campus interview. I thought there was no way they would hire a DIII coach. But sure enough, I got that call.
Sue Favor: What is the approach of the Oregon State Beavers when they hit the court?
Scott Rueck: We prioritize defense – that’s my favorite stat. We’re a very unselfish team. We have good spacing, a good offensive post presence and we want to control the tempo of the game. We don’t want opponents to get comfortable on the floor.
Sue Favor: What are the most important things coaches can transmit to athletes in basketball?
Scott Rueck: There’s not a point of life that basketball doesn’t touch. We have such an opportunity to mold young people, to help them develop leadership skills and courage. There’s a lot of insecurity out there, and I hate that. I want players to approach the game and life with courage and the belief that they can do it.
I’m not a hand-holder; I teach them how to be adults and set them up for success. There are CEO aspects to this job, but people are wrong if they don’t see the education aspects. It’s education at a different level.
Sue Favor: What do you look for in an athlete when you’re recruiting?
Scott Rueck: Selflessness is number one. They need to be great teammates, comfortable and humble and able to play. I want people that love defense. If I sense attitude, I move on.
Sue Favor: If you could travel anywhere on Earth, where would you go and why?
Scott Rueck: Right now Bora Bora, because it’s winter. Going to (the Greek Island of) Santorini is on my bucket list.