Honor roll student. High basketball IQ.
One doesn’t necessarily go with the other.
Sandburg’s Rachel Ruzevich is one of those rare individuals who scores all A’s on and off the court.
She first learned to play the game from her father, Joe. He coached her from the time she started playing organized basketball through eighth grade. Ruzevich has turned back to those early lessons to help her play out of position during her senior year at Sandburg.
She is the 5-foot-8 guard who has sacrificed personal glory for the good of the Eagles’ team. She is also the girl with a plan of action in place that likely will set her up for a lifetime of success.
Ruzevich, Southland Patch’s Athlete of the Month for December, will study to become an orthodontist and will play basketball at Wayne State University next season. She is the first Sandburg girl to be recruited to play Division I/Division II basketball in seven years.
“My orthodontist (Dr. Cynthia Wong) inspired me to want to become an orthodontist,” Ruzevich said. “I love to make people smile. I always make people laugh. I’m always that funny person.
“Just to see people happy and just to know that their smile is as perfect as it can be—just to help them—I love to help people, too. So, that’s why I chose that.”
Sandburg coach Chris Hellrung—saddled with a team full guards—chose Ruzevich to move inside and play against girls much taller than her because he knew she could handle the job. The result: After a 2-6 start, Sandburg has hit its stride.
Heading into Thursday night’s game at Joliet West, the Eagles (8-9) had won 6-of-9 to pull within striking distance of the .500 mark. Ruzevich averaged 13.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals during the month of December and led Sandburg to a second-place finish in the Oak Lawn Holiday Tournament.
“When she came in, she was strictly a guard,” Hellrung said. “She’s always been a solid shooter. But, now, the thing that really has impressed us is her defense. She’s able to guard any one of four positions on the court—actually, five positions—and not only just guard them, but do a good job of guarding them.
“And, quite frankly, she’s a 5-8 girl guarding a lot of 6-1 and 6-2 girls. How? It’s a lot of everything. She’s a very good athlete. She’s strong for her size. She’s quick. And her basketball IQ is very high.
“A lot of times she sees things happening before they actually do, so she can anticipate it, which puts her in great position to make a defensive play.”
Ruzevich was used almost exclusively as a guard during her junior year at Sandburg and when she played travel ball with her club team in the off-season.
“I was guarding the point guard,” she said. “I was guarding the best girl on the floor. I was all up in their face. To go down low, it’s a different game. But, again, my dad taught me how to play in the post when I was little.
“So, I remember everything from where to move, where to guard them—how to guard them—to what they do best and what they don’t do best. That’s how I’ve come guard them."
She uses her head to make up for what she gives away in height. And that’s a trait that will serve her well moving forward. At Wayne State, she will be four hours from home but only minutes from a playground game. She knows Detroit is a basketball hotbed.
“I felt at home there when I went to visit,” Ruzevich said. “They were very welcoming. They loved me and I loved them. The team is great. I stayed with the team. Their program is very good. They got three new coaches three years ago. So, they’re fairly new.
“They’re trying to make their little ‘Dream Team’ right now. To be part of that, it’s going to be a great experience.”
Previous Athlete of the Month Winners
September: Bloom's Brantley is Patch's Athlete of the Month
October: Marist Wide Receiver Courageous After Death of Brother
November: Andrew's Friel Enjoys the Last Laugh