Monday, February 14, 2011

Washington Post column-- 'UDC basketball coach Jeff Ruland gets another shot at redemption'

The following is the column for this past weekend's The Washington Post ------------

On one wall of the University of the District of Columbia's gym hang the school's two significant banners - one from the Firebirds' 1982 Division II men's basketball national title, the other from the program's runner-up finish a year later.

The banners serve as a reminder of past glories at UDC, bringing back memories of Earl Jones, Michael Britt and a packed Physical Activities Center. Now, as Firebirds Coach Jeff Ruland gave his team final instructions before their game Thursday night against Livingstone, his voice could be heard clearly in every corner of the near-empty gym.

"You have to get back on defense, work on defense," he said, repeating the mantra of almost anyone who has ever coached basketball on every level. "Have good ball movement. Let's go."

The hands went into the huddle and a few seconds later the ball went up to start the 21st game of Ruland's second season as UDC's coach. This is where his journey has brought him: from his mother's bar on Long Island; through a recruiting frenzy that included Bob Knight, Joe B. Hall and Jim Valvano; to three life-changing years in college at Iona; to eight NBA seasons in Washington and Philadelphia; and finally into coaching.

Ruland spent nine seasons as the head coach at his alma mater and thought he would spend the rest of his career there until he was fired in 2007. Now, after a stint in the NBA D-League and another year in the NBA as an assistant coach, he finds himself riding the buses of Division II, coaching in empty gyms and getting frustrated with the junior college referees who work a lot of UDC's games.

"Okay fellas, we got the three stooges tonight," he said to his players during one timeout. "Let me take care of it."

Click here for the rest of the article: UDC basketball coach Jeff Ruland gets another shot at redemption


Anonymous said...

John - Great Story. Jeff's a good guy and pretty decent coach. He deserves another shot in D1 or on an NBA bench.

Momus said...

One of your finest columns ...great writing. Probably doesn't have enough mass market appeal, but there's a book in there waiting to be written. For example, how the hell did Tony Iati go from Wall Street to prison to assistant coach at UDC??

Speaking of Iati, you may have been a little passive in describing his situation as "the market crashed and some of his deals went bad." If he was sentenced to 20 months in the federal pen (serving 11), there was undoutedly a little more culpability on Iati's part (who plead guilty) for his transgressions than simply having some deals that didn't turn out as planned. A quick check of google had articles using words like "defrauding" and "bilking" to describe Iati's actions.

The other quibble I had was with the article's headline (which I know the writer doesn't normally have any control over). "Another Shot At Redemption" implies that Jeff Ruland had already had a previous opportunity at redemption, and presumably had failed. Ruland himself says that this would be "some kind of redemption," not that this was a second chance at redemption. I think the headline writer was being inadvertently redundant by mixing "another shot" with "redemption" -- the editor should have chosen one or the other.

Anonymous said...

Momus, don't be so quick to be so tough on Tony. He obviously made a mistake, but he's a good guy who, like all of us, deserves a second, third, however many chances at rebounding (pun intended) in life. John, you did a marvelous job, so well written, very touching, bringing another side to the story. I didn't know about the difficulties in Jeff's and Tony's careers, but no one escapes unscathed, no one. As John knows better than most, there are many, many stories beyond the wins and losses. Good luck to John, and continued good fortune to Jeff and Tony.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic story, John - I swear there's a movie in the making if Jeff and Tony turn things around at UDC. BTW, Jeff deserves lots of credit for his loyalty to Tony during some tough times when other people pretended they didn't know the guy. Without getting into detail, I had a chance to get to know Tony quite well during the New Rochelle days, and he is one heck of a nice guy whose personal mistakes are tantamount to parking tickets when compared w/ what went down on Wall Street in 2007-08, which was years after he had left The Street. I wish them both the best, and I hope the Iona and New Rochelle crowds remember all that Jeff, Tony, and a lot of other guys did to bring attention to the school during the Jimmy V. and Pat Kennedy eras. Good luck, fellas, from 59-B Locust Avenue.