Ruth Hamblin: Standing tall in Corvallis

February 25, 2014 - 12:01am
Oregon State's 6-6 sophomore center Ruth Hamblin swats down one of her PAC-12-best 104 blocks (3.7 bpg) this season. (Photo by Dave Nishitani/Oregon State Athletics)

Oregon State's 6-6 sophomore center Ruth Hamblin swats down one of her PAC-12-best 104 blocks (3.7 bpg) this season. (Photo by Dave Nishitani/Oregon State Athletics)

Ruth Hamblin is used to standing apart from others.

The 19-year-old Oregon State sophomore center says she's been taller than most people her entire life. Now 6-foot-6 for the last 18 months, even among ball players she is a giant.

This season Hamblin is also turning heads because of her court play. The British Columbia, Canada native is averaging 3.71 blocks per game, which is more than double anyone else in the Pac-12 and ranks sixth in NCAA Division I women's basketball. She is also seventh in the conference in rebounding, averaging 8.7 boards per game.

Last month Hamblin notched just the second triple-double in OSU history, scoring 23 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking a school-record 10 shots to lead the Beavers over Oregon. This past Friday she got her 101st block - making her the fourth player in school history to block more than 100 shots.

Hamblin is one of the reasons OSU is tied with Arizona Sate for third place in the Pac-12, and her teammates think this is just the beginning for the quiet, mechanical engineering major.

"It's been amazing to watch her grow," sophomore guard Khadidja Toure said of Hamblin. "She doesn't even realize how crazy good she's going to become."

If Hamblin continues the rapid rate in her development that she's had since she got to Corvallis, Toure may be right.

Hamblin grew up on a farm in Houston -- not Houston, Tex., however, but rather a tiny town 1,767 miles north of Vancouver, B.C. She started playing basketball in middle school, and by high school it was a fairly easy game for her because of her height.

"Definitely in high school when you're that tall, a lot of it was turn and shoot," Hamblin said. "As I went up levels I had to learn post moves."

"My senior year I didn't play much because other teams couldn't handle it, we were beating them by so much. I think I averaged 30 points and 15 rebounds at least."

Her talent was apparent to OSU coach Scott Rueck, who stumbled upon her at the End of the Trail Tournament in Portland, Ore., in July, 2011, just before Hamblin's junior year. He said he'd been scouting other prospects, and saw Hamblin play by chance.

"I saw Ruth and I saw a lot of effort, and her ability to run the floor," Rueck said. "She was raw and had great size. She reminded me a player I'd had (previously), and we had great success with this type of player. I knew I could teach her, and we needed a post."

Rueck talked to Hamblin at the tournament, and found that she was both "cerebral" and dedicated: her father was driving her the 13 hours to Vancouver each weekend so she could play with her club ball team.

"As we continued to talk to her, we could tell we had what we were looking for," Rueck said.

Still, when Hamblin arrived at OSU, she had some things to learn.

"She didn't recognize some parts of the game because she hasn't been playing forever, so she was constantly surprised," Rueck said of Hamblin's freshman year.

He set about teaching her, and found that she worked hard and learned quickly.

"Her work ethic is second to none," Rueck said of Hamblin. "She is in the gym every day; she's an incredibly driven and motivated individual."

Rueck said Hamblin is a little behind, learning some things now that most players pick up on in high school. But because of her intelligence, she has been improving rapidly.

"This year she knows what to expect," he said. "She's learning what she can do, and staying away from things she can't do. She's learning to play without incurring fouls."

Rueck said Hamblin has also worked hard on conditioning.

"She's completely changed her body," he said.

Hamblin said she came into college stronger than the average person because of the physical work of the farm where she was raised. But the athleticism of the college game was her biggest adjustment.

"The strength and the speed was something to contend with," she said. "Everyone is so athletic and so strong - I had to adjust and work hard in the gym. All season is preseason."

Others are taking notice, too: A long-time member of the Canadian Junior National Team, last summer Hamblin made her debut with the Canadian Senior National Team, appearing in several exhibition tournaments in the lead up to the 2013 FIBA Americas Championships. She hopes her role in the national team program will grow as she continues to develop her game.

"It's definitely a shot at the Olympic team, a foot in the door," she said.

Rueck, who coached Division III George Fox to a national title, is in his fourth year at the helm of the program at OSU, his alma mater. Hamblin said she is grateful to have him as a coach.

"He's just a basketball genius - he knows how to set up people for success," Hamblin said. "He's very demanding and he sees what we might not see in ourselves, so he's always pushing you past your limits."

"Some days it can be frustrating because he's harping on you and you don't see why, but you know it's for your own good, and good things are going to come out of it. He cares about every part of our lives, too, so he's not just a basketball coach.

Toure agrees.

"Everything coach does is meticulous," Toure said. "He notices things no one else does, and he trains you to think like that."

Toure said the fact that both Rueck and Hamblin are detailed thinkers makes them a perfect match. As a result, Toure said Hamblin's confidence has catapulted this year; Hamblin agrees.

"The thing I've improved most on is my confidence in scoring, and anticipation," Hamblin said. "I can read where (players) are going and take it away."

Off the court, Hamblin is a unique personality. Her hometown was so small, that she jokingly calls Corvallis "city living." She is also majoring in a field that doesn't include many women.

Toure, also an engineering major, didn't know what to make of her teammate at first.

"When I first met her, I thought, 'We're never going to be friends,'" Toure said. "She's so different from everyone else, but it's cool because she just owns it and is who she is."

The Beaver squad is close-knit, however, and that interpersonal unity is translating increasingly on the court. Toure and Hamblin grew to accept each other's differences and over time have become fast friends.

"Ruth is serious, but funny, and really corny," Toure said. "She's mature for her age, so we named her 'Grandma.' She's got a world view of things."

Hamblin's burgeoning talent, and OSU's increasing ability to play together, has enabled them to defeat every team in the Pac-12 so far this year, except Stanford, Cal and Arizona State, all teams that are nationally ranked. The Beavers also challenged No. 2-ranked and as yet unbeaten Notre Dame in December. For the first time since Rueck took over, the Beavers may be poised to make a run in the conference tournament when it tips off next month.

For her part, Hamblin is working to be a consistent scorer and rebounder, to go along with her prolific shot-blocking.

"I just have to keep grinding," she said.