PREP BASKETBALL: Ruttley begins long road back

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By Chuck Jones

Look into the eyes of Jermaine Ruttley and there’s a certain amount of wisdom not often seen in a high school junior. Hear him talk and you begin to understand why. But Ruttley has faced plenty of adversity in his young life. With each challenge, the 6-foot-3 point guard comes through it stronger and more determined to reach his dreams. Just two days before the basketball season was set to begin, Ruttley’s season came to a screeching halt: He suffered a season-ending leg injury and ended up spending nearly a month in the hospital after his kidneys started to shut down following surgery. What was expected to be a breakout year for Ruttley turned tragic on one dunk attempt. He had done it countless times before, but this one was far different. One might expect Ruttley to be angry; maybe even furious or irate. But Ruttley, like usual, refuses to see his lost season on the court as a negative off of it. He prefers to dig a little deeper and even leaned of the memory of Cameron Irvin, his North Hardin teammate who died in 2009 in an accident, for support. “I’ve had changes in my life,” Ruttley said. “Those things have made me more mature for my average age. I’ve had to grow up faster. I had to. “They say God has little tests for all of us,” he added. “I was disappointed because of how hard I worked. But I wasn’t frustrated at all. I had to accept the fact I was injured. After I saw the first game, I wished I was out there. But it’s not the end. God must have a plan for me.” Ruttley’s journey to this point of acceptance has been a long and winding one. He has had to deal with his parents divorce. He lives with his mother, but has contact with his father, who lives in Chicago. Ruttley spent time at Brown Street Alternative Education Center, which provides a positive learning environment to help students succeed by reducing behavior problems and negative attitudes. When he was an eighth-grader, Ruttley was stabbed over a game of one-on-one. According to Ruttley, he won a game against a teen-ager, who then tried to fight him. After being struck first, Ruttley said he beat up the teen-ager. The next day, Ruttley was stabbed and had to be airlifted to Louisville. He received 16 staples to close the wound and spent three days in the hospital. Ruttley has a constant reminder with a scar several inches long on his stomach. “This was much worse than that,” Ruttley said. “This was crazy. I expected to be there three or four days and it turned into three or four weeks and I just hoped I was going to get better.” But Ruttley has turned his life around and much of the credit can be traced to his love of basketball. Ruttley even said during an interview last year, “The game of basketball has changed me. I think without basketball I'd be dead or in jail.” Last season, Ruttley averaged 10.4 rebounds and 4.4 rebounds and led the Trojans with 131 assists. Ruttley, though, offered a glimpse of his immense potential as he blossomed into a postseason star. In the 5th Region championship game, North Hardin coach Ron Bevars pulled Ruttley aside and told him to take over the game after leading scorer James Berry fouled out. Ruttley did as he was told. He put the Trojans ahead with a finger-roll layup in traffic, dished out an assist to make it a four-point game and played lock-down defense until Campbellsville’s final 3-pointer kicked off the rim to give North Hardin a 69-66 victory. After an offseason of playing with an AAU team out of Louisville and working on his game, Ruttley was ready to take the region by storm. During a preseason poll for The Cats Pause, most coaches had Ruttley ranked among the top three players in the region. But during warm-ups prior to North Hardin’s scrimmage against Louisville DuPont Manual at Louisville Male, it all changed. Ruttley went up for a dunk during warm-ups when something went seriously wrong. “When I went to go up, I heard something,” Ruttley said. “When I came down it popped. I dunked and when I came down I was hopping on my left foot. I knew when I went up I had done something. It sounded like a gun shot. Pow! “I looked down and saw my leg just hanging there,” he added. “I thought I was done. But I started doing some research and found this is the same injury Michael Bush had.” Ruttley landed awkwardly, breaking both the tibia and fibula in his right leg. He was taken to Kosair Children’s Hospital, where he remained overnight and had surgery the next day to place a titanium rod in his leg. But a few days after the surgery, Ruttley’s kidneys started to shut down and he had to be put on dialysis. It was unclear what caused it and how long it would take for Ruttley to recover. “I was scared when I went to the bathroom and I was peeing black stuff,” said Ruttley, who was visited by several University of Louisville basketball players in the hospital. Ruttley was finally released from the hospital a few days before Christmas. He attended North Hardin’s games in the Whitaker Bank/Fort Harrod Classic at Mercer County to begin the healing process. It was therapeutic to the team to see Ruttley, but also for him to be around his teammates. Ruttley is still on crutches and was set to begin rehab last week. He can’t put any weight on his right foot under doctor orders, but manages to get around quickly. He attends practices and sits on the bench during games, often giving advice or making suggestions. “I’m glad to be back,” Ruttley said. “The most important thing is learning. I have to focus on my grades. Sometimes good things come from something bad. I think this makes me want to play basketball more. I see people playing and it kind of makes me jealous. “I’ll be back playing the spring,” he added. “At least this didn’t happen next year. I’ll be able to play with my AAU team (in the summer) and I’ll be able to play next year. I’m fearless. I’m not scared that it will happen again.” Chuck Jones is can be reached at (270) 505-1759