Andes' Mariah Ruff named top female hoop player in the state
By John Bernhardt
From the moment she picked up a basketball as an elementary student on the hardwoods of the tiny court at Andes Central School, the people who watched her play understood they were seeing something special. Even so, few could have predicted the incredible heights to which Mariah Ruff’s basketball game would one day climb. Last weekend, the Basketball Coaches’ Association of New York announced Mariah Ruff as the 2014 “Miss Basketball,” the top high school girls’ basketball player in any class, at any level in New York State.
“I’m not even sure Mariah understands the enormity of what this means,” her Oneonta basketball coach Matt Miller told the Catskill Mountain News after learning about Ruff’s designation.
“To begin with, Mariah is the first girl of boy in the history of Section IV to even be nominated for this honor.” Miller went on. “When you consider Mariah’s the premier player in our league (Southern Tier Athletic Conference) and how many players that entails, and then stretch that to take in every other high school basketball league in New York State. It’s almost mind boggling,” finished Miller.
Joins special group
Miller emphasized his talented guard joins a pretty elite basketball crowd as the BCANY “Miss Basketball” designee, a list of winners, both girls and guys, who over the years have played for the nation’s top Division I basketball programs and professionally in the NBA or WNBA. Just consider that of NYS’s previous top four “Miss Basketballs,” three; Bria Hartley (North Babylon High School), Breanna Stewart (North Syracuse High School) and Saniya Chong (Ossining High School) star at perennial national powerhouse Connecticut, and Bria Smith (Christ the King High School) plays for the 31-4 University at Louisville Cardinals. Next fall, Ruff will take her basketball game to St. Bonaventure were Coach Jim Crowley, this year’s Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year, has found a basketball gem.
Ruff took the news in stride when she learned of her designation from one of the assistant coaches at St. Bonaventure.
“I found out through one of my college coaches, and I thought she was just kidding. I was stunned. It was weird. I was totally shocked.”
In fact, when an Oneonta teammate Madison Miller, asked Ruff how it felt to be named the best girls’ high school basketball player in New York State, Ruff responded that she’s prouder of her soccer team’s NYS championship this fall and would gladly trade the designation for a basketball state title.
Miller says it’s never been about awards or recognition for his basketball star. The numerous awards and designations that have come her way are simply the by-products of Ruff’s love and passion for playing the game and the tremendous efforts she puts into getting better.
“Mariah has always put winning first, her teammates second and Mariah Ruff third,” Miller emphasized. “Any awards she’s ever received weren’t even on her radar. They were after thoughts that came with working extremely hard and doing things the right way.”
TV station honors
Ruff, the WBNG television 2013 Athlete of the Year, averaged 17.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and five assists a game in her senior season this winter at Oneonta. Over four years, she has helped her Yellowjacket teams win seven Section IV basketball titles, missing a championship only once in soccer during her freshman year. Oneonta won the state soccer crown this fall with Ruff and Madison Miller named Co- State Players of the Year.
The fact that he has never coached a varsity basketball team without Mariah Ruff is not lost on Miller.
“I’ve been spoiled to coach a kid like Mariah. She’s a once in a career type of kid. It’s hard to measure how easy she’s made my job as a coach. You have an ace on the floor every time Mariah Ruff steps foot on the basketball court. That’s a card a lot of other coaches simply don’t have to play.”
Miller deeply appreciates what Ruff has done for Oneonta girls’ basketball in the past, in the present and going forward.
“Mariah has changed the way our athletes prepare for seasons and games. She’s redefined what it means to get to the top in terms of her work ethic. Not a lot of girls lifted weights before Mariah Ruff came to this school and she’s made an effort to do that for the last four years,” he explained.
For her part, Ruff understands young girls across the area are asking what they need to do to play like her.
“Get out and play as much as you can,” Ruff advises. “Seek our the best competition you can find. Play against the guys. Play a lot, as much as you can and don’t forget to do a ton of drills and shoot a lot,” she encourages.
Ruff is taking nothing for granted as she prepares to move her basketball game to the Division I level. When asked what her designation means to her chosen school at St. Bonaventure, Ruff responded, “Hopefully, big things. From a standpoint of statistics it’s very good. But, you can’t always look at statistics. I’ve got to prove it.”
Setting goals has always been a huge part of Ruff’s basketball story. The former Andes hoop star has already made goals for her first season as a Bonnie.
“I want to start as a freshman,” Ruff said emphatically. “I want to help the team in any way I can, to do whatever Coach Cowley asks, and, hopefully to win the Atlantic 10 championship.”
Looking forward for the career path of his senior star, Coach Miller stresses that every kid who goes to St. Bonaventure to play basketball is a great athlete with exceptional skills.
“What the Bonnies coaches will learn is that what sets Mariah apart is her fearlessness, her intense competitiveness. Mariah is never overwhelmed by any basketball situation or platform she’s on,” her Oneonta coach pointed out. “She’s the ultimate gamer. She wants to compete. She wants to be the best player on the court. And no matter what odds she’s facing, Mariah Ruff believes she can win.”