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WVU basketball: Rutledge finding his way

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The one reason West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins likes forward Dominique Rutledge is because of the way he moves.

If there's one thing Rutledge knows quite well, it's moving.

WVU is his sixth school in the past six years, and though he hasn't settled in and averages 1.1 points and 1.1 rebounds in 3.8 minutes per game, Huggins says Rutledge can help.

"This is hard for Dom," the WVU coach said. "Dom didn't really play in high school and he took the scenic route here to junior college in Kansas, Miami and Western Texas. He doesn't have the background the other guys have, but he gives us a shot of athleticism."

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Rutledge is from Newark, N.J., where former WVU forward Da'Sean Butler first heard of Rutledge. Butler played at WVU from 2006-10. He and Rutledge graduated from their high schools in 2006.

Rutledge, who turned 23 last month, didn't start playing organized basketball until his junior year of high school at the city's Malcolm X Shabazz High.

"I was pretty good," he said. "I think I would have been a lot further ahead if I started earlier. I learned a lot in the brief time I was playing, but I knew guys who were getting recruited in the seventh and eighth grade. That was what I wanted to do, but I only made the decision in my junior year."

His potential was impossible to miss.

He said he had scholarship offers from smaller schools and smaller conferences and things started to pick up late in the recruiting cycle before coming to an abrupt end.

"I didn't qualify, so I went to prep school for two years," Rutledge said.

He played at New Jersey's Edinson Job Corps Academy and averaged 15 points and 11 rebounds per game.

Rutledge graduated in 2008 with some scholarship offers, including one from Marquette.

Grades were again an issue and he instead headed to Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, where he averaged 8.9 points and 7.3 boards in the 2008-09 season.

The school changed coaches in the offseason and Rutledge was on the move again, this time to Miami Dade Junior College.

He was averaging 11.6 points and 8.5 boards and generating a good amount of attention before he broke his wrist early and ended up missing the rest of the season.

The next offseason brought the move to Western Texas Community College in 2010.

His wrist hadn't healed, so he didn't play, which actually ended up helping his recruitment.  

Had Rutledge played last season, he would have had two years to play just one season. By merely practicing with the team and focusing on his grades, he developed a work ethic, ensured his eligibility and maintained two years of playing time at the next level.

"We had a couple recruits on the team and (college) coaches came to visit practices and watch them," Rutledge said. "That's when I started getting looks. It was kind of weird not playing, but I was determined to make it to this stage of basketball."

Rutledge said he had offers from Utah State and Connecticut and that Marquette returned late in the process, but he ended up picking the Mountaineers. Huggins said Rutledge was "highly recommended" by Butler.

It's been no easier for Rutledge at the Division I level.

He needed knee surgery that limited him during the team's summer exhibition schedule overseas and was later suspended, but reinstated in time for the start of practice. He wears a brace on his left knee and said it "slows me down," but that the knee gives him no trouble.

He's played 13 of the 17 games for WVU (12-5, 3-2 Big East), which hosts Rutgers (10-7, 2-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday inside the Coliseum. Rutledge didn't really make an impact until scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds in 10 minutes of the championship game of the Las Vegas Classic against Baylor.

Rutledge has played in all five games since, though he's only scored in two and hasn't played more than nine minutes. The Mountaineers need him, though, now that freshman forward Pat Forsythe is out for the season with a back injury.

Rutledge has a unique set of skills.

"What he gives us is athleticism, which he's got a bunch of," Huggins said. "Kevin Noreen is more of a guy who is eventually going to make shots. He hasn't made any yet, but he will make them. He works too hard at it not to.

"Dom is more of a guy who can rebound and block shots. He moves his feet and he wants to get better, but he can rebound the ball and block shots, which we need. We don't have a shot-blocker."

Rutledge has missed 8 of 12 free throws. He's turned the ball over seven times. Against UConn Monday, he drove to score twice, but missed both times, and got himself in trouble under the basket when he put the ball on the floor. Huggins said, "I can't keep Dom from dribbling," proof Rutledge is still finding his way.  

"As far as my talent goes, I'm very confident I can help this team and confident that I can contribute," he said. "I'm not going to say what I can and what I can't do, but I know it's just a matter of time."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.

 


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