Ruscoe's got the name, and got the game
There is an orchard of family trees in Nelson basketball. You have your Wrights and your Fitchetts, your Shallcrasses, Vucinics and Dahlbergs ... fathers, sons, daughters and cousins who have kept the game in great shape through the past two decades.
And then, there are the Ruscoes. Matt played for New Zealand and was the first coach of the Nelson Giants when the local national basketball league team followed the franchise model in 1990. Former partner Jane McMcMeeken played for Nelson and New Zealand, while their children, Kate and Luke, mixed brief stints in Nelson teams with careers in US colleges and abroad.
It is not surprising, then, that the newest recruit for the Fico Finance Nelson Giants has a strong affinity with the region.
Guard Brook Ruscoe has signed with Nelson for the 2013 NBL season and is looking forward to revisiting some old haunts, including the Jack Robins Stadium in Stoke.
"I used to come down for Nenad's [Vucinic] summer camps from the time I was 11 or 12 and quite a few of the guys who were intermediate kids then made it through to the Giants," the 22-year-old said.
"It's full circle, really. I'm very close with Uncle Matt and Auntie Jane and my cousins. I've even been told that Uncle Matt was coaching the Giants in an NBL final on the day I was born, so there are some strong ties."
Ruscoe is a Wellington lad, son of Matt's sister, Liz. He's won a swag of age group national titles, a couple of national schoolboys championships, including claiming the MVP award both times, and he's a current NBL champion, being part of the Auckland Pirates side that monstered their opposition in 2012.
He's also played briefly at a college in Missouri and was a key figure when the Junior Tall Blacks played host to the world at the 2009 under-19 FIBA championships.
It's a healthy resume, yet Ruscoe was looking for something new, a change of style and tempo when he committed to Nelson.
Two NBL seasons ago, he made the decision to move to Auckland. He'd been in Wellington most of his life and the Saints squad there was settled and something of a closed shop.
The Pirates of 2011 became a woebegone bunch, though. Ruscoe averaged six points a game as a rookie as Auckland won just five of 16 games, finishing one spot off the foot of the league ladder.
A change of coach and a franchise revamp saw the Pirates stride to a championship this year, with Ruscoe up to nine points a night in a squad oozing Tall Blacks and Breakers veterans.
F ast forward to last month and, before the celebration champagne had fully lost its fizz, Auckland were out of the NBL with funding issues cited as a backbreaker. Although new owners picked up the team's league licence and re-entered next season's competition, the uncertainty proved too much for key players.
Lindsay Tait and Dillon Boucher packed up and went to Wellington, Alex Pledger is expected to turn up in Waikato, if he plays next year, Hayden Allen opted for Otago and Ruscoe listened when new Giants coach Liam Flynn came calling.
"Liam rang me and told me what he hoped to build with the Giants in his first season," Ruscoe said. "He wants an aggressive team, one that will get after it on defence and play a lot of in-your-face basketball, then he wants to push back hard with the ball.
"That's appealing to a player like myself ... we played a very structured style in Auckland and the ball went through Linds [Tait] on every play. It obviously worked great with the roster we had but my game is best suited to getting out in the open court."
Flynn was drawn to Ruscoe's athleticism and his ability to put the ball in the basket.
"He's quick and athletic - a guy we will use to get up the floor and pressure opposition guards full court," Flynn said from his base in Townsville, where he is currently the assistant coach for the Crocodiles in the Australian NBL.
"And he was an exceptionally efficient player last season for the Pirates, his shooting percentages are very good. Plus he has that championship-winning experience to bring to our roster."
T he Giants envisage using Ruscoe as a combination guard. While he has played most of his career as a shooting guard, where captain Phill Jones is almost a part of the furniture for Nelson, he is learning to play point guard. He will back up friend and fellow fringe Breaker Josh Bloxham.
Tait was an ideal tutor, while Bloxham, brothers Corey and Tai Webster, CJ Bruton and NBA-schooled superstar Cedric Jackson pose a range of challenges when Ruscoe gets to run with the Breakers.
"They're all different, either their speed or their size or their smarts," Ruscoe said. "I have a lot to learn about playing the one [point guard] but it will really expand my ability to get into the game if I can work on running the team."
Of course, as a shooting guard first and foremost, Ruscoe has the ultimate tutor at hand in Jones, who has committed to yet another NBL season after making his debut in 1993. No one has played more matches in the NBL, no Kiwi has scored more points.
"I've been lucky to have players like Linds and Dilly [Dillon Boucher] to learn from because they understand the game so well but the chance to train and play with Phill is another big reason why I am coming to Nelson.
"Phill and Kirk Penney are two of the best shooters the league has ever seen."
As noted, Ruscoe's already fairly adept at putting points on the board. Facing world-class opposition at the FIBA under-19s, he averaged 16 points a game, again at impressive percentages, to be the Junior Tall Blacks' second-leading scorer. Despite the strong individual showing, Ruscoe rates the tournament as a disappointment, in hindsight.
"We could have beaten Argentina in game one, probably should have, then we pushed Croatia all the way," he said. "Everyone was telling us how great we had done but, really, we should have been gutted to lose games we could have won.
"We actually let ourselves down in our [last pool game] against Kazakhstan because we felt we just needed to walk into the gym to beat them."
Ruscoe has tested his talents further afield, too. A stint at Moberly Area Community College in Missouri was cut short by injury and an operation, while he also attended a free agent camp with the 36ers franchise in Adelaide that, perhaps, should have yielded more.
Ruscoe rated his performance in front of Adelaide's management as the best he had ever played ("everything went my way, everything"), yet the phone never rang once he returned to New Zealand.
"They went with local guys for their development spots but I thought I had done as much as I could."
He is not a part of the formal Breakers roster this season, either, but is in a wider group that benefits from coaching by Dean Vickerman and Judd Flavell and the occasional chance to train with members of the ANBL squad.
T hat's where the Giants offered another attractive opportunity. Flynn is well thought-of in Townsville and Ruscoe is looking forward to a season-long audition that could eventually lead to something in tropical Queensland.
"That's kind of a side issue, I'm coming to Nelson to play for the Giants in the NBL, that's the focus."
Ruscoe is not due in town until shortly before the start of the new NBL season, but he is keen to get here sooner, if possible. He wants to come under the influence of Giants and Tall Blacks trainer Claire Dallison to experience some of her legendary preseason preparation.
"If we are going to run, I want to be really fit," he said. "I'm coming off a bad month with an ankle injury and some sickness so I need those workouts and Claire will show me some stuff to get moving better laterally."
Meanwhile, he's been ducking back and forwards between Wellington ("it will always be home") and Auckland, where he flats with Silver Ferns netballer Kayla Cullen, Auckland Blues loose forward Stephen Luatua and Shortland St actor Frankie Adams. So, is Adams a sporto, too?
"Well, she reckons she plays a bit of netball and basketball, but let's say she needs to stay on her side of the camera," Ruscoe said.
The Fico Finance Giants have a pre-Christmas camp coming for the players already signed; Jones, Bloxham, Sam Dempster and Darryl Jones, along with other Nelson-based players who hope to make the final squad. Ruscoe won't be there, though, having made plans to travel to Australia before he signed here.
"I wish I had known, I feel like I will be a step behind but we were all waiting to see what would go down with the Pirates. Finally, I couldn't wait any longer.
"It's fine, though, I will need to go that much harder to catch up with the other guys and that's something I'm looking forward to, a lot."
The Nelson Mail