MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Alex Ruoff is the latest former Mountaineer to get begins his coaching career under Bob Huggins.
Ruoff played four seasons at WVU under John Beilein and Huggins from 2005-09. His 261 3-point field goals made still rank No. 1 all-time in program history. He ended his career as the 18th all-time leading scorer with 1,420 points. His 410 career assists rank seventh in the record books, while his 189 steals check in at sixth.
After graduating in 2009, Ruoff’s professional career spanned three continents and six countries.
In August, he made the decision to retire from playing after 12 years. On that same day, he also made another announcement: he was back in Morgantown to begin a new chapter of his basketball career as a graduate assistant for Huggins.
“It was always a dream of mine. I had terrific coaches in middle school and high school, then I got to play for John Beilein and Bob Huggins,” Ruoff said Saturday in an exclusive interview for The Bob Huggins Show. “All of them were very influential for me, so I knew one day I wanted to give back what they did for me to other kids.”
RELATED: Huggins’ coaching tree branches into NBA
Ruoff didn’t know where or when his coaching journey would begin, but he always knew it would happen one day. While it seemed like the choice to trade in his jersey for a whistle happened simultaneously, it was actually in the works for a few years before it came to fruition.
“Before I went to Japan and Germany, I talked to Huggs about possibly joining and helping out in certain areas,” Ruoff said. “Then I selfishly went back for one more year.”
Once that season was done, Ruoff’s mind was made up. He reached out to his former head coach, and asked if the position was still available. The rest is history.
While Ruoff was looking for that first opportunity, he knew his alma mater is the place he could have the greatest impact. He knew firsthand what it took to be successful under Huggins. It was the same factor that he believed was missing in recent years — mental toughness.
“Having gone through it myself with this coaching staff and this program, I knew with all the new kids coming in that this was going to be the hardest thing they’ve ever done. It’s really hard to sell them on the fact that you have to do more than that,” Ruoff said.
“Every kid in the country is doing weights, practice, conditioning, open gym. Every team in the country is doing that. How you separate yourself is by doing the extra work. Doing it when your body doesn’t feel well, that’s part of being a pro. The day you leave here to go try to make money playing this game, you have to motivate yourself on those days.”
Ruoff passed that lesson onto the players upon his arrival. He’s someone who’s been there, done that, and in the same jersey for the same head coach. That’s also why he believed he could connect with the players and offer them support as they try to navigate the same journey.
“It’s important to be there for them through those moments. It’s not easy with this generation,” he said. “They aren’t used to that type of hard coaching, but just reassure them that he loves you, cares about you, and wants what’s best for you. This is your challenge and you have to rise to it.”
Ruoff has now been on opposite ends of Huggins’s passionate coaching style. WVU assistant DerMarr Johnson can also say the same for himself as he played under Huggins at Cincinnati.
Johnson said last week on the Bob Huggins Show that he told the current players the head ball coach is “soft” compared to what he experienced in 1999-2000. It’s something Ruoff remembers well, too.
“I’m probably going to carry the rest of that bitterness with me for my career. He’s older now, he’s not 52 like when I first played for him. I can’t imagine what he was like back in Cincinnati,” Ruoff said. “These kids, even in their moments of complaining and feeling sorry for themselves, they have no idea how tough it was.”
So maybe Huggins has eased up just a touch, but his Hall of Fame resume is the reason players from all over the country want to come to Morgantown. It’s also the reason his former guys want to come back and learn from him.
Ruoff’s goal is to work his way up the ranks and be a head coach one day. Who better to learn from than the third-winningest coach all time?
“It means a great deal to me. Not only to be back here representing this state and program but to work for Bob Huggins, a Hall of Fame coach that has done so much for me not only in my college career but helping me and supporting me all through my pro career,” Ruoff said. “To be able to work for him, try to help him as much as can, to start here, it means the world to me. I couldn’t be more thankful.”