As a former Mountaineer himself, assistant coach Alex Ruoff understands what WVU basketball is all about.
And his journey from college player to professional player and now into coaching has brought him back to where it all began.
“I came here in 2005 and the program was not what it is now,” Ruoff said. “What has been built is on us to continue. To approach this the right way that best represents the people of this state.”
Ruoff began his journey for the Mountaineers in 2006 and was a lights-out scorer from beyond the arc. Across his four-year career in the Coliseum, he is the career leader in three-point field goals made at WVU, with 261 to be exact.
Ruoff after his career became a legend for WVU men’s basketball, ranking top ten in multiple career categories to date, including seventh all-time in assists and sixth all-time in steals. Not to mention a career that saw him finish as the 18th-highest scorer in school history.
After 127 career games, Ruoff was proven as a winner, leading the Mountaineers to three NCAA tournament appearances which included two NCAA Sweet 16 appearances and an NIT Championship.
After his playing days in Morgantown were over, Ruoff moved on to the professional ranks where he played two summer leagues in the NBA for the Washington Wizards in 2009 and then for the Brooklyn Nets, formerly known as the New Jersey Nets, in 2010. He then moved on to play 12 seasons overseas, including stops for teams in Japan, Spain, Belgium, Finland and Germany.
Now, combining all of his knowledge from both the college and professional game, Ruoff admits that the game has evolved and it’s fun to watch and be a part of the players’ preparation for the next level as an assistant coach.
“Very different, two different beasts. I can’t just bring over a professional-style system and expect players to be just as good. Kids have evolved with this decision when I came out of school and it would have been a lot tougher than what these kids have adapted to,” Ruoff said.”
“This is the style that kids want to play, it’s the style that prepares them for the next level. It’s spacing, it’s fun. It’s moving the ball, everybody is involved and I think kids are going to enjoy it. It’s going to continue to get better and it’s fun to watch,” Ruoff said.
Ruoff’s journey has now settled into his next stop, back at WVU and on the court for the WVU men’s basketball team. Ruoff joined the staff as a graduate assistant last season pursuing a master’s degree in sport management and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sit back and learn from former head coach and hall of famer Bob Huggins.
“Overseas basketball is special, but when you take all of that away and it becomes just a job, all the sudden you’re ten months away from family and friends and it takes the joy a little bit,” Ruoff said. “After talking with Coach Huggins about joining the staff and coaching down the road, it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
Last season in his first year on the staff, Ruoff said he was able to be a sponge and a reliable apprentice under Huggins, learning from him each day and doing anything the team needed.
“What a year it was to learn behind Bob Huggins. I was just a [graduate assistant] last year and I was able to rebound for guys and a guy that was a ‘yes man’ to do anything the staff needed and do a lot more on the scouting side of things,” Ruoff said. “I kind of helped him with managing minutes but just watching and learning from Coach Huggins.”
With Huggins’ resignation in the summer of 2023, former assistant Josh Eilert was promoted to interim head coach and Ruoff was retained but also upgraded into a full-time assistant coach. He’s joined by other former players on the staff, former point guard Jordan McCabe and legendary forward Da’Sean Butler, who are the other assistant coaches for the 2023-24 season.
Now with an increased role at his alma mater, Ruoff values his time to bond with Eilert as a coach, but to also make special connections with others around the program.
“Fast forward to when Josh [Eilert] was named coach, I was excited for Josh to keep me on,” Ruoff said. “That time between was a special time and stressful was an understatement. It was a special time to bond.”
Ahead of his first season as an assistant coach, there are many things that Ruoff has learned from senior advisor James Dickey, and he said he’s cherished his new role leading the WVU squad from the bench.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is that there are a lot of wonderful people in this profession,” Ruoff said. “Having Coach [James] Dickey on the staff has been nothing short of a blessing. Getting out on the road recruiting is new to me, meeting people making those connections.”
Besides the many things that Ruoff says this season’s team does well, he’s prepared to coach the current Mountaineers on how they can improve as a unit.
“We do a lot of things well, we share the ball well, we have really high IQ character guys. Super coachable,” Ruoff said. “Our need is to coach harder and hold people more accountable now. I’d like to see us rebound the ball a little better and we have to get better at rebounding. On ball defense is good, not better and we need to get better on the weak side. We’re harping rotations and we need that weakside defender’s mentality to be team defense.”