2014-12-24 / Time Out

Time Out: Dec. 24, 2014

One of the pleasures of working in public education is to sometimes be a part of turning points in young people’s lives. A turning point is a critical step forward, an awareness of one’s capabilities that makes a positive difference in one’s life. Turning points provide purpose and meaning that help shape future direction. And turning points come in every shape and size; perhaps a youngster discovering the joy of reading, a young actor surpassing their expectations when performing on stage, or an athlete or even a team taking their play to an uncharted level of success.
Last week I had the privilege of witnessing what I believe will be a turning point in the college basketball career of former Andes player Mariah Ruff. Ruff, who starred on the basketball court at Oneonta High in each of her four high school years is a freshman on a full scholarship at St. Bonaventure. When Mariah’s dad, Dave, called and invited me to accompany him on an adventure to Olean to watch Mariah play, I jumped at the opportunity.

Many unknowns
When parents send their children off to college, they hope for the best, understanding that sometimes college can turn a teenager’s life upside down. Academic expectations can sometimes shift dramatically and are far more likely to ask students to analyze, reason and problem solve than many high school classes. A student’s reading and writing load can increase dramatically. This can be a daunting challenge for college freshmen who may struggle managing independently or failing to adapt their study habits.
Handling new responsibilities, new relationships, and new freedoms can swallow a teenager who arrives on a college campus for the first time. And, all that change and all that angst is not confined to the classroom. Similar pressures can be faced by freshman athletes on the playing fields and in the sporting venues on college campuses.
Mariah Ruff’s transition on the hardwoods in Olean shares some of the characteristics of a typical college freshman’s transition to their first year of higher education. After four years with girls she knew in Oneonta, Mariah is working to fit in with a new team, a team with girls from all over the country and a team with two out of every three girls returning.

New system
The style of play at St. Bonaventure is different than that Maria experienced in Oneonta. The Bonnies play a much more ball control style of offense than the open throttled game Mariah commandeered in Oneonta. Mariah is struggling trying to figure out her role and what her coaches expect of her. After starting and playing every high school game she had ever played in six seasons as her team’s varsity point guard, Mariah had been coming off the bench and playing the unfamiliar role of a shooting guard when she entered a game for the Bonnies.
Even though Mariah was averaging more minutes off the bench than any other Bonnie substitute, the adjustment from Class B basketball in Oneonta to Division I basketball in Olean was not without some level of confusion, some level of frustration, and, perhaps, for the first time in her basketball playing career, some level of doubt.
All this only added to my intrigue as we drove to Olean. I had always had a great relationship with Mariah. She is an apt student of the game of basketball who has always given my insights a fair hearing. I couldn’t wait to see her play and get a chance to pick her brain and better understand the world of hoops as a Division I scholarship basketball player.

Getting first start
A tweet from Mariah announced big news. For the first time in her basketball career she would be starting on Wednesday night. And, to her delight, she would be starting at point guard. The regular point guard had an infection and, for that reason, the Bonnies’ coaches wanted to cut back her time. So, Mariah would be managing the game from the point.
Rightfully so, Mariah was psyched. So was I. Not only would I be watching Mariah play college basketball, I would be seeing her start her first-ever game as a Bonnie.
From the opening tip-off, Mariah was simply electric. She pulled down the tip, advanced the ball and bounced a perfectly placed pass between two defenders, hitting Nyla Rueter for a lay-up. Mariah buried her first two three-point attempts, played solid defense and made two remarkable open floor passes through crowded territory, hitting streaking teammates who dribbled the ball to the hoop for scores. By halftime Mariah had scored a season-high 12 points leading both teams. This was the confident, somewhat swaggering Mariah Ruff I had grown accustomed to watching play basketball so often in Oneonta.
St. Bonaventure was playing North Carolina College at Greensboro. The game was a barn burner, the two teams separated by four points at the half, and staying almost that close throughout most of the second half. Towards the end of the game, the Bonnies finally pulled away.

Career marks
Mariah played 32 minutes, the most minutes of any player on either team and her longest amount of time on the hardwoods in any game this year. She scored 17 points, a team high, and nine points more than her previous high this season. Mariah also pulled down six rebounds, another season high, and was named the Bonnies’ “Player of the Game.” Put it all together, and Mariah Ruff’s basketball night was almost magical, the kind of hardwood performance with all the feel of a turning point.
A note of interest, Mariah started her second straight game and played 30 minutes in a Bonnies’ win over the University of Niagara on Saturday. And through it all, Mariah is taking an accelerated academic program, earning good grades. She says that even if she wasn’t playing basketball, she would still love going to school at St. Bonaventure.

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