Posted: Friday January 19, 2007 2:42PM; Updated: Monday January 22, 2007 12:58AM
Hanging In There
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Iona coach Jeff Ruland has had plenty of adversity in his life, so coaching a winless basketball team is simply another challenge in a life that has had its share.
Iona is 0-18 after three straight heartbreaking losses. The Gaels fell 81-80 to Niagara on Saturday and had a 72-65 overtime loss at Canisius on Thursday -- in a game they surrendered a game-tying three-pointer with 4.6 seconds to play in regulation. Prior to that, it was an 83-76 overtime loss to Fairfield.
When reached this week prior to the Canisius game, the former NBA All-Star said his team was holding up as well as expected, and he said he is doing his best to lead in a trying time.
"I have to keep their spirits up," Ruland said. "It is my alma mater. It is my team. I'm the captain of the ship, so I have to set a good example."
Ruland went on to detail some of his life's trials. He said he lost his father when he was 9, lost his last year of eligibility at Iona when he signed with an agent, had his pro basketball career cut short due to injury and lost his marriage to his wife's alcohol problem.
"I went back to school [after his playing career ended] and got my degree and became a successful coach," Ruland said. "My ex-wife has been sober for four years now and we're the best of friends. I try to draw strength from all that. You can either feel sorry for yourself or you can try to right the ship. That's what we are trying to do. The win will come."
Iona's struggles come from various areas. Four starters from last year's NCAA tournament team graduated, and the fifth, Gary Springer, tore his ACL this summer. The team's point guard, Kyle Camper, broke his foot in the third game of the season and was lost for the year. Two freshmen, Mike Harris and Alejo Rodriguez, have been battling injuries. St. John's transfer Dexter Gray, became eligible in December for four games and averaged 10 points, but he will sit out the rest of the year to concentrate on academics.
Ruland says his team is improving, and the overtime losses to Fairfield and Canisius are evidence. He is optimistic next year will be better, but they first must survive this season.
"These freshmen will be sophomores next year, and I'll get Gary back and I'll get Kyle back and we've got a transfer from Georgia [Younes Idrissi] sitting out, and we've got two good freshman guards, so we'll be back. We have to weather the storm now, unfortunately."
Wichita State, one of the darlings of the national media early on this season after an impressive 9-0 start, has slumped to 12-7 and 3-5 in the Missouri Valley after an 83-75 loss to Illinois State on Thursday. The Shockers, who were ranked No. 8 in the nation in December, are currently in seventh place in the MVC... Northern Iowa won a big road game at Missouri State on Thursday, taking over second in the league behind Creighton. The Panthers do not have a strong non-conference resume, so it is imperative they finish in the top two or three in the league if they want to make the NCAA tournament... Appalachian State saw its RPI plummet from No. 9 to No. 41 after a stunning home loss to Elon, but then recovered to beat Western Carolina two days later... Boston University beat UNH 53-29 last Saturday, holding the Wildcats to 13 points in the first half. New Hampshire shot 21 percent for the game. It was the fewest points UNH has scored since 1993... Vermont won a key America East battle over Albany 75-66 last Saturday. The Catamounts moved to 4-0 in league play. It was Albany's fourth league game in eight days, and the Great Danes finished 3-1 in that demanding stretch... In the Atlantic Sun, Lipscomb won the first Battle of the Boulevard against Nashville neighbor Belmont last Friday, handing the Bruins' their first league loss. The A-Sun is shaping up as a three-team race between Lipscomb, Belmont and East Tennessee State... Winthrop is back to its old ways, winning it first four Big South games by an average of 26 points. No school is going to want to see Winthrop on the other side of its bracket come Selection Sunday... Marist point guard extraordinaire Jared Jordan had his second triple-double of the season with 24 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in an 84-75 win over Siena... After compiling a 3-9 non-conference record (against a very tough schedule), Delaware State is 5-0 in the MEAC and is looking for its second NCAA bid in three years.