MORGANTOWN — Their names are found throughout the WVU men’s basketball record book, so no detailed explanation is needed to explain Da’Sean Butler’s and Alex Ruoff’s passion towards the school.
Yet it is a different role the two have as Josh Eilert’s assistant coaches in what is basically a one-year tryout for the entire staff.
“It’s just about finding different ways to manage people and building relationships,” is how Butler describes his role as assistant coach. “That’s all coaching is, teaching and managing personalities.”
The years have somehow seemed to fly by. Was it really 13 of them since Butler led the Mountaineers to the Final Four?
If Butler were to shave his beard, it wouldn’t look like it.
“I’ve got to shave it at some time,” he says. “My wife isn’t going to let me keep it for too long.”
How about 15 years ago, when Ruoff hit that spectacular 3-pointer as the shot clock was about to expire against Duke in the NCAA tournament?
A lifetime for them, maybe, at the very least the length of their pro careers beyond their college days.
Which brings us back to their current situations.
For Ruoff — the school’s all-time leading 3-point shooter with 261 of them — he was trying to summon up enough energy for another pro year overseas when Bob Huggins called him to return as a graduate assistant.
“The opportunity to join the staff with Huggs was too great to pass up,” Ruoff said. “Body-wise, ego-wise I was wanting to play another couple of years, but after talking with coach Huggins about joining the staff and possibly coaching down the road, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
Butler, who is the school’s third all-time leading scorer with 2,095 points, had already dipped his toes into the coaching waters by then, first as an assistant at Wheeling University before coaching in the NBA Summer League and catching on with the New York Knicks as a video coordinator.
Butler was brought in by Eilert this summer. Eilert then also promoted Ruoff to assistant.
And now two of the school’s top former players are on an uncertain journey at what may be the most turbulent time for the program.
Both have one-year contracts, which coincides with Eilert’s run as interim coach after Bob Huggins’ controversial resignation last June.
Not only is their future at WVU uncertain, but the Mountaineers’ roster is unsteady at the moment. RaeQuan Battle is still searching for a waiver to be cleared to play, while teammates Jose Perez was dismissed from the team and Kerr Kriisa will serve a nine-game suspension for accepting improper benefits while he played at Arizona.
Forward Akok Akok is also expected to miss at least a portion of the season, after collapsing to the floor and being rushed to the hospital during last week’s exhibition game.
“Let’s just continue to be consistent all-around,” is Butler’s message to WVU fans. “As fans, as our staff, as we expect our players to be, let’s just continue to be supportive.
“We’re not victims. Bad things have happened, but we’re going to move forward. Just like bad things have happened in this state, we move forward. We don’t want our players to feel like woe is me.”
That theme of consistency plays out in recruiting. Ruoff admits it’s difficult talking with high school seniors, since the possibility is there they could enroll at WVU not knowing who the coaches may be.
While addressing that elephant in the room, Ruoff and Butler take a more personal approach to recruiting. Ruoff recalled what drew him to WVU in the first place, which was a handwritten letter by former coach John Beilein.
“A Big East coach taking time out of his day to write those handwritten letters was special,” he said. “So, I’m taking that and if I meet someone, or I’m working with a recruit, I call that kid every week, ‘Hey, man, hope you’re still working; hope everything is going good,’ just like every other coach. But there’s also ways to be special. Talk specifics, or maybe talk to a coach and get more personal.
“All that stuff that was special that John Beilein did with me, I’m hoping to do on my own now.”
Everything else is just basketball, and Ruoff and Bulter have shown over the years they can handle what the game may throw their way.
“Teaching is the most important thing, because the players only respect what you know, not what you did as a player,” Butler said. “I’ve had a chance to watch a lot of basketball and learn from a lot of great coaches. This is a great opportunity in front of us. We just have to take advantage of it.”