Family and sports have followed Oregon State head coach Scott Rueck for many years, including into his team’s historic success with their 13-0 start this season.
Years before now, the ball is far behind the three-point line in a driveway basketball matchup. Brother versus sister battle head to head. A younger Scott Rueck is early in his coaching career. Lining up against Rueck and handling the ball is his younger sister, Heidi Newkirk, who is playing college basketball at George Fox.
For this matchup, the pair had a rule in place that stated the siblings couldn’t guard each other in a specific zone, located far behind the three-point line. Newkirk saw an opportunity. Her shot went up from the un-guardable zone, and she nailed it, winning the game. At three and a half years difference in age, the siblings had competed their entire childhood, and Rueck had just lost for the first time.
“He blames it on that rule, but that’s the one time that I beat him,” Newkirk said. “Otherwise, he’s always beat me every single time.”
Rueck, who was still an assistant coach at the time, was early into what would become a career of coaching basketball. He began his start as a coach while completing his undergraduate studies at Oregon State by working as an assistant men’s basketball coach at a nearby high school. Eventually, he moved on to be an assistant with the women’s basketball program at George Fox University in Newberg, Ore.
After several years as an assistant, Rueck was promoted to head coach for the George Fox Bruins and found tremendous success, compiling a 288-88 record that included a Division-III national championship in 2009. His winning record at George Fox led to his induction into the George Fox Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.
While he was enjoying his time at GFU, Rueck says there was only one way he ever considered leaving: if he got the job at Oregon State. His mom attended OSU and he admitted that he has been an Oregon State fan his entire life. That dream became a reality when OSU announced on June 30, 2010 that Rueck was hired to lead the Women’s Basketball program.
“I would joke with the few people that I would ever say this to when I was in Newberg at George Fox that Oregon State was the only job I’d ever leave George Fox for,” Rueck said. “I didn’t think a PAC-10 school at the time would ever consider hiring me...because it’s not the norm and had only happened one other time before me.”
Now at Oregon State, Rueck’s success has continued. In the last decade, he has led the team to five-straight NCAA tournaments, including a run to the Final Four in 2016. He won the PAC-12 Coach of the Year award on multiple occasions and has won three PAC-12 championships.
While he quickly proved he was the right hire for OSU, Rueck admits he never dreamt of having this sort of success when he accepted the position.
“I didn’t know if it was possible to win at that level at Oregon State,” Rueck said. “The thought of being here ten years, I never really imagined that. I hoped, of course, but I’m like ‘if we don’t win, this is a job you can get fired from.’”
Nearly ten years after his first team at OSU had just one player with Division-I experience on the roster, the Beavers are laden with veteran athletes. Of the 14 players on the current roster, seven are upperclassmen and only freshmen forwards Jelena Mitrovic, Kennedy Brown and Taylor Jones were not with the team last season.
According to Rueck, the blueprint for his success has been simple: find players with the talent to play PAC-12 basketball who are also great people and create a fun, positive environment.
“If the culture is broken or the talent is not good enough, it doesn’t matter what a coach does – you’re not going to win,” Rueck said. “When you create an environment that is fun to be a part of every day, and the locker room is fun, the bus is fun and they learn how to problem solve together, take care of each other and then they love to compete together, you’re probably going to find success.”
The positive team culture translated to success on the recruiting trail as freshman forward Taylor Jones, once ranked by ESPN as a five-star prospect, cited the family focus as one reason for choosing OSU.
“[At] the high school I came from, we were really close and that’s just what I wanted in a college program,” Jones said. “Everyone here is family, it’s not a coverup….We’re all a family.”
With his team full of talented players and a strong, team-oriented culture, Rueck’s Beavers are setting program records for their position in the national rankings. The team has reached as high as No. 3 in the nation as of Dec. 29 and a 13-0 season start as of Jan. 3.
.Newkirk described how she’s “not surprised” at her brother’s achievements, citing his skill at motivating female athletes and getting the most out of them. She also added a belief in his work ethic and ability to find team-oriented players as a reason for his success.
Not only is family a focus with his basketball teams, it’s a focus in his personal life. When he’s not coaching basketball, Rueck enjoys vacationing, embracing the challenge of playing golf and wanting to be a drummer. No matter what he’s doing, Rueck wants to do anything with his family.
“He’s fun and he always brings a level of fun to our family. Always joking around, having fun, but he’s thoughtful too. He cares about his family,” Newkirk added. “He might send me a random text sometimes wondering how I’m doing, or when we see each other at the holidays he always cares about what’s going on in our lives.”
Nearly ten years after accepting his dream job, Newkirk notes that her older brother is still the same person he was before coming to Oregon State. While she is certain his coaching philosophy has changed, he is and always will be “Scott” to her and those who know him.
He may have lost one driveway matchup, but he hasn’t done much losing since then.
Rueck and the Beavers will return to Gill Coliseum on Jan. 17 for a matchup with the California Golden Bears.