When Marlon Ruffin realized after a few summer weeks that walking on at Wisconsin-Milwaukee of the Horizon League wasn’t the right fit for him, the self-described late bloomer chose to travel another path.
The 6-foot-5 combo guard, an academic qualifier and all-state selection from Sun Prairie High School near Madison, Wisconsin, left for Highland Community College in Freeport, Illinois, with a single goal in mind.
Ruffin gave himself a year to prove himself worthy of a Division I scholarship. After a solid 23-6 freshman campaign with the Cougars under coach Chad Boudreau, he has earned himself a spot in UNO’s latest recruiting class. Ruffin, who has three years of eligibility remaining, officially joined the Mavericks on Friday.
The Wisconsin native visited Omaha Thursday, spending time with current UNO guard Ayo Akinwole.
“I definitely had a good time over the visit,” he said. “I really felt family-oriented when I went there, as far as the staff and the people in the school — the advisors and athletic director. I was really impressed with school of business and definitely impressed with the brand-new arena. I feel like I’m wanted there.”
Ruffin’s commitment brought an end to what he said was a really hard year. After not being recruited then leaving Milwaukee, he moved from a big city to a much smaller one, of 25,000, to play at Highland.
“There’s almost really nothing to do there,” the second-team NJCAA Region IV guard said. “I basically just kept that goal that I’m going to be here for one year if I stick to my plan and do what I need to do.
“But, as my grandma used to say, ‘God gives his toughest battles to his toughest soldiers.’ It was definitely a long road, a long journey. I couldn’t do nothing but tear up when I signed earlier today.”
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Ruffin said he developed a good relationship with UNO assistant Tyler Erwin last year at a junior college jamboree. They kept in touch throughout a season in which he helped Highland reach a Region IV final.
UNO coach Derrin Hansen and assistant Pat Eberhart then watched Ruffin at the recent Mullen’s Junior College Showcase in Olathe, Kansas. An official scholarship offer was waiting for him shortly after.
Ruffin averaged 13.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists in his one season of junior college ball while shooting 54.3% from the field, 47.2% from long range and 76.9% from the foul line. He credited Boudreau with putting him in positions to maximize his potential and grow as a player.
“When you go juco, it kind of really puts something in you. It puts the dog in you,” Ruffin said. “I think I can come into Omaha and bring my versatility, mentality and physicality to the table to help the team.”
UNO, 21-11 during this past season, brings back three starters and seven of its top nine players from a team that finished second in the Summit League in both the regular season and conference tournament.
The Mavs added Ruffin, who said he’s comfortable both playing and guarding positions one through four, to a recruiting class that includes three Kansas City area athletes — transfer Marco Smith from UMKC and incoming freshmen Lamel Robinson and Darrius Hughes. Additionally, Norfolk product and UC Davis transfer Logan Strom will be eligible this season after sitting out for the NCAA-required year.