Valley West’s Ruff among league’s top performers DRIVING FORCE
PLYMOUTH — Some great athletes have come through Valley West’s boys basketball program in recent years.
District champion running backs and quarterbacks, as well as a state runner-up ace right-hander, have dotted the starting lineup in Rich Jones’ three years as head coach.
Senior Draig Ruff is another multisport athlete, but one whose skills are most evident on the court.
“I’ve had good athletes,” Jones said. “He’s probably the purest basketball player I’ve had.”
Rolled into his 6-foot-3 frame, Ruff ’s basketball IQ, talent and work ethic have made him the most overpowering individual this season in the Wyoming Valley Conference.
“It’s amazing because, sometimes, you get to watch him take over the game. It’s just amazing how he does it,” said senior guard Booker Kennedy. “He knows when he has to kick it up a notch and he knows when to cool down and pass the ball. He knows when they’re keying in on him and he knows when to have other people step up. He’s not a selfish person and that’s what I like about him.”
Ruff first played baseball, then was introduced to basketball in second grade at a “Little Millionaires” program in his former hometown of Williamsport.
By ninth grade, Ruff, who lives in Kingston, was already good enough to crack Valley West’s starting five.
Ruff had a breakout season last year as a junior, in which he averaged 15.1 points per game and made The Citizens’ Voice’s all-star team.
Between basketball seasons, Ruff, 17, played tennis in the spring for Valley West and baseball in the summer for Swoyersville’s American Legion team.
“You learn, you gain different abilities from different sports,” Ruff said.
Ruff returned to the basketball court as a senior with more responsibilities than ever, often lining up as the only returning starter with one fellow senior, Devon Rhodes, and junior Danny Gibbons, sophomore Sammy Solomon and freshman Mason Mendygral.
“Absolutely he’s become a leader — in the locker room, out on the court,” Jones said of Ruff. “He’s been more vocal this year because he knows it’s his senior year. Kids respond to him well, and he likes taking that role.”
While he previously relied on a dominant post game, Ruff has added a perimeter element to his repertoire, and his 19 3-pointers are already more than triple what he made as a junior. Ruff is also shooting 73 percent from the free throw line, up from 64 percent a year ago.
The Spartans have had some bumps in the road, though, sporting a 3-7 record through Friday.
That’s not unheard of when a player like Ruff — who plays every position and is averaging a league-best 28.8 ppg through Friday — is attracting all sorts of attention from opposing defenses.
“I like when teams focus in on me,” Ruff said. “It makes me a better player. But it also makes our other kids better players because when they’re focusing on me, that means that (my teammates) get to have the jump shot and they get to boost their confidence. That’s going to help a lot when, at the end of the year, we need them to bang that back-down jumper. Because then teams won’t be able to just key in on me. We have a bunch of dead-on shooters and once teams start realizing that, they’re not going to be able to just key in on me and we’re going to be a really deadly team.”
On Friday, Ruff scored a seasonhigh 45 points in a 71-60 win against Pittston Area. In the win, he surpassed 1,000 career points.
Ruff has scored 288 of the Spartans’ 593 total points, accounting for a whopping 48.1 percent of his team’s scoring.
And he’s rarely had an off-night, as Ruff has scored in double-figures every game.
As far as what’s next, Ruff said he intends on playing basketball in college.
“Right now there’s teams looking at me, of course, but my options are still varying,” he said.
Before it comes to that, Ruff has a goal of playing for a district championship at Mohegan Sun Arena — even as he acknowledges Valley West’s slow start and its current No. 6 seed in the District 2 Class 5A playoff field.
“By the end of the year, we should be fine,” Ruff said. “Right now, they (my teammates) are adjusting. We’re getting better and better by every game.”
Valley West’s Draig Ruff is the top scorer in the Wyoming Valley Conference through Friday.
Valley West’s Draig Ruff runs at a recent practice.