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LEONARD ORTIZ, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Huntington Beach basketball player Harley Ruder, left, gets tripped up in a game against Westminster in the Charlie Wilkins Memorial Classic.

Mom helped Oilers' Ruder find love for the game

FOR OCVARSITY.COM

The first time Harley Ruder picked up a basketball, it was the summer before he entered his freshman year at Huntington Beach High, and it wasn't by choice.

That might be hard to believe now, given the way the 6-foot-5, 200-pound Ruder, who is now a senior, moves on the court.

But there was a time when Ruder was a tall, lanky kid who only cared about skateboards and dirt bikes, who scoffed when his mother, Natasha, told him she wanted him to play a team sport, specifically basketball.

"I was skateboarding at the time, but my mom wanted me to be (involved) with a team and be with other kids, so she wanted me to play basketball," Ruder recalls of the day his mother enrolled him in the Oilers' summer basketball program.

The son didn't exactly go willingly – or at all – in the beginning.

"He was ditching and not going to the practices because he was given a pretty hard time," Natasha Ruder said. "He was a tall kid and there's an expectation, but he didn't know anything (about basketball). He fought me every step of the way."

Despite not knowing anything about basketball, Ruder caught the eye of varsity coach Fabian Luna.

"I saw this long, gangly young guy with long hair, and he wasn't really polished," Luna said of the first time he saw Ruder play, "but you could see he had some decent footwork, and some tools that could probably make him a good player."

When Luna asked Ruder to play for the Oilers in a summer league game, he got an answer he didn't expect.

"I think what he told me was, 'I don't play in games,'" Luna said. "By the end of the summer we finally got him out there for a game, and I think from there it kind of just took off."

Ruder had his breakout season last year as a junior. He averaged 13 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, leading the Oilers to a 16-13 record, a tie for second place in the Sunset League and a trip to the second round of the Division I-A playoffs.

There were also some significant personal achievements by Ruder, who earned all-Sunset League honors and was also named second-team All-CIF.

Ruder, who has learned to embrace being part of a team, credits his coaches and teammates for his development.

"All of the coaches at Huntington took me under their wing," he said. "They all opened the gym for me every day, any day I wanted to come play.

"My teammates help me. I'm just having fun, and it's helping me more and more."

Just having fun? That's not how Luna sees it.

"It's a testament to him," Luna said of Ruder's success. "He just became a kid that put a lot of time and work into it; it didn't just happen overnight. He's a gym rat."

Natasha remembers noticing how quickly her son ditched his skateboard and filled his days instead with basketball.

"He asked me to get him a 24 Hour Fitness membership, and he went there and was asking absolute strangers to teach him to play," Natasha Ruder said.

It's still early in the 2012-13 season, but Luna has seen more improvement out of Ruder this year.

"He has developed more of a perimeter game," Luna said. "When he first got here, he was a back-to-the-basket guy and he had some good moves. Now he is able to step out, hit a jump shot and take the ball to the rim.

"He creates a matchup nightmare."

That was evident just this week, as Ruder scored a game-high 32 points on 13-of-21 shooting while leading the Oilers to a 61-54 victory over Ocean View in the Charlie Wilkins Memorial Classic.

Luna noted how Ruder "was demanding the ball" from his teammates, and smartly they were getting it to him.

"When you have a guy like Harley," he added, "you've got to just give him the ball and let him do his thing."

Ruder is hoping to continue playing basketball on the college level. He said he has spoken with Chapman and The Merchant Marine Academy about playing at the next level.

If it doesn't happen, Ruder's mother won't be disappointed. How could she be?

"I'm most proud of just watching him grow," Natasha said of her son. "I'm proud that he stuck it out and how much pride he takes in himself.

"I've watched him build his confidence as he has continued to work."

Buried within the story of what can be achieved through hard work and dedication to a craft is another lesson: A mother really does know best.


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