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BF Number 16: Jeff Ruland

[Editor's Note: Part 5 of 20. LoDawg31 is up next with Juwan Howard. -PM]

Update [2007-8-24 2:30:13 by Pradamaster]: There were some facts in this article that are inaccurate, and for that, we apologize. The corrections can be found in the comments section. -PM

Sometimes, there are just some players that carry amazing talent, only to be derailed by injury and never truly live up to their potential. Such is the case of number 16 on the Bullets Forever top 20, Jeff Ruland. Like Kevin Loughery, Ruland was a New York guy. Granted, he grew up in Long Island but it's close enough. While playing there, he caught the eye of Jim Valvano who recruited him to play at Iona College. Ruland took up Valvano on the deal and enrolled at Iona and helped give Iona a strong enough national profile to help Valvano get the head coaching job at N.C. State. Even without the legendary coach, Ruland blossomed into an excellent player at the small upstate college and eventually drew enough interest to be Golden State's second round pick in 1980.

After being selected to the Warriors he decided to play in Barcelona for a year, before returning to the U.S. and much like another player from Spain we all remember he was traded upon his arrival to the U.S. Golden State shipped Ruland off to the Bullets where he would begin his NBA career. The early returns were good as Ruland posted 14.4 ppg on 56% shooting to go along with 9.3 boards while only averaging 27 minutes per game in his rookie. To give a modern day equivalent, Ruland was a lot like Paul Milsap his rookie year...if Paul Milsap had been playing behind Spencer Haywood as opposed to Carlos Boozer.

Ruland got the green light in his second season, taking over as a starter and posting even better numbers and teaming up with Rick Mahorn to become the gritty frontcourt duo known as "McFilthy and McNasty" or as I would've liked to call them, the Bash Brothers.

Like Ruland and Mahorn, but with less steroids, tell-all books, and funny errors.

Despite the success of the duo down low, the Bullets were unable to make the playoffs in Ruland's second season, despite his great season. He would take out his rage on the rest of the NBA the next season posting the best numbers of his career: 22 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists per game while shooting 57.9% from the field and 73 percent from the stripe. Ruland's stat-stuffing season earned him a spot in the All-Star Game as well as a return to the playoffs. Unfortunately, Ruland's frontcourt tandem with Mahorn was no match for the Celtics' Bird, McHale, and Parrish. Even in defeat, Ruland was dazzling as he upped his game in the playoffs going for 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists per game during the 4 game series with Boston.

Ruland's breakout performance appeared to have him on the path to stardom but he had no idea that his career was almost over. The next season a foot injury limited Ruland to 37 games. Those foot injuries would come back the next year and Ruland was able to only play 30 games. At the end of the season, Ruland was done. Washington traded him, unwilling to keep paying someone who kept getting injured. Ruland tried to make a go of it, signing with the 76ers but he was only able to play 5 games before deciding to hang 'em up. In 1991, Ruland gave it one more shot as he came out of retirement with the 76ers but his feet just could not take the beating of the NBA as he was only able to play 24 games in 2 years with Philadelphia and Detroit. After his all-star season of '83-'84, Ruland only played 96 more games.

After Ruland retired from playing he went into coaching, first as an assistant with the Sixers before taking an assistant coaching job at Iona which eventually turned into a head coaching job. As a coach, Ruland helped return Iona to the heights that he had brought the school to as a player including several tournament appearances and a win over nationally ranked North Carolina. However, his impressive pedigree wasn't enough to save him last season as his team limped to a 2-28 record leading to Ruland being fired. Thankfully, he still landed on his surgically repaired, Bill Walton-like feet as he accepted a job to coach the Albuquerque Thunderbirds of the NBDL where he can coach Julius Hodge (just don't tell Chris Paul).