- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. New Mexico's Ruben Douglas wrapped up the national scoring title over the weekend.
Of course, you probably didn't hear about that with hoops headlines dominated by Villanova's phone card calamity, the Jim Harrick/Tony Cole saga, Ricky Clemons' assault plea and the Olean-der forfeit express.
You see, Douglas has never been charged with a felony or benched because of some gross malfeasance, though Lute Olson did once give the shooting guard a one-game suspension for running in a hotel lobby.
Douglas has never failed out of school or received credit for classes in welding or free throw shooting. Nope, the 6-foot-5 senior is scheduled to graduate with honors in two months with a degree in mass communications and journalism.
He's not one of those players with a hard-luck, life-on-the-street story. Yes, he's from Los Angeles. But he grew up in Altadena, not Compton. And both of his parents, Rogelio (who taught him to shoot) and Johnnie, were on hand to watch his final game at the Pit last week.
Heck, Douglas isn't even related to someone famous. Not unless you count his older brother, Rogelio Jr., who has been performing lead tap in Riverdance over the last several years.
The irony, of course, is that in today's wild world of big-time college athletics, Douglas' stable background, exemplary behavior and classroom accomplishment are exactly what make him newsworthy. That, and of course his 28.3 point scoring average and 50 New Mexico and Mountain West Conference basketball records.
"If we were winning games, Ruben would have received a storm of national attention, and he'd be everybody's All-American," said first-year New Mexico coach Ritchie McKay last week. "I can't put into words how much he's meant to this program. I think he's going to have a great career at the next level."
If you haven't seen Douglas play, you're not alone.
New Mexico has made just two late-night national TV appearances this season. And thanks to a roster that includes just seven scholarship players (courtesy of former coach Fran Fraschilla), the Lobos (10-17, 4-10 Mountain West) haven't exactly been a beacon of success.
"It's been a rough year," said Douglas last week before his final home game. "It's not the way you want to go out as a senior. I'd gladly trade my points for a trip to the NCAA tournament. But we just don't have the depth or personnel to win at the highest level."
That hasn't stopped Douglas from ravaging opposing defenses and providing a one-man marquee capable of selling out arenas from Albuquerque to Knoxville.
"He's worth the price of admission," said Tony Barone, the primary scout for the Memphis Grizzlies, when asked to assess Douglas. "He plays on a team where he's basically scoring option No.1, No.2 and No.3, and teams still haven't been able to stop him. That's impressive."
Take, for instance, Douglas' performances this season against Mountain West regular-season champ Utah. In two games against the Utes, Douglas scored 71 points on only 33 shots from the field. Utah coach Rick Majerus was so frustrated that his team allowed Douglas 32 points on repeated open looks in Salt Lake City that he employed a box-and-one against him in the teams' second meeting at the Pit.
Douglas responded by fouling out all three Utes assigned to guard him and making 31 trips to the free throw line en route to a 39-point outburst in a 76-69 upset.
"Utah was determined to get up into me and take away my outside shot, so I put it on the floor and used their intensity against them by drawing fouls," said Douglas, an 85 percent free throw shooter who averages an astounding 10.9 trips to the foul line per game. "Don't think I can't beat you with the bounce. I'm a scorer who can shoot, not just a shooter."
Said Majerus after the second game: "The guy has just killed [us]. He's a scoring machine."
Coaches and recruiting insiders knew of Douglas' talents when he averaged 30.1 points as a high school senior for prep powerhouse Bellarmine-Jefferson (Burbank, Calif.) in 1997-98. As one of the nation's bluest chips, Douglas signed with then-national champ Arizona. And though he averaged a respectable 8.0 points and 2.0 assists for the Wildcats as a freshman, Douglas left the program before his sophomore season when Olson gave his starting slot to incoming freshman Gilbert Arenas.
Olson has always been quick to blame the parting on Douglas. Less than two weeks ago, the revered coach was asked about Douglas and responded: "Ruben struggled here to grasp the team concept. And when I look at New Mexico, I see Ruben is going for 35 or 40 a night, and they're still losing. Maybe that tells you something."
When told of Olson's comment, Douglas simply shrugged, laudably refraining from ripping his former coach or pointing out Arizona's two high-profile transfers this season (Will Bynum and Dennis Latimore).
"A lot of people say I didn't get along with my teammates at Arizona, but that's not true," explained Douglas. "I'm still very close with Loren Woods and Luke Walton. Hey, Arizona's got a great program, and I wish those guys well. It just seemed obvious that the staff there didn't have any confidence in me, and so I just thought it was best for me to move on."
Douglas chose New Mexico because he remembered the raucous atmosphere the Wildcats faced at the Pit during a game his freshman season. Nobody could have predicted what a positive impact the change of scenery would have on his game.
In all likelihood, Douglas will conclude his three-year career at New Mexico when the seventh-seeded Lobos take on No.2-seed BYU in the opening round of the Mountain West Conference tournament in Las Vegas. Douglas needs to score 19 points against the Cougars (he's been held under 20 points only twice this season) to set the school's single-season scoring record. And if he scores six points, he will move past Luc Longley (1,769 points from 1988 to '91) into fifth place on New Mexico's all-time scoring list. The five players currently ahead of him were all four-year lettermen.
Of course, a paucity of publicity will likely cost him All-American honors. But Douglas could take his revenge in June's NBA draft.
"Sure, Ruben will get drafted somewhere," said Marty Blake, the NBA's director of scouting services. "Where he gets drafted will probably depend on how well he plays in Chicago [at the NBA's primary pre-draft camp]. I don't think he'll be a lottery pick, but the bottom line is that Ruben can score, and the league is always looking for scorers."
Frankly, Douglas isn't all that concerned about the future. Because unlike many NBA hopefuls, Douglas has other promising career options.
He writes a weekly hoops column for the school newspaper, the Daily Lobo. He's starred in a regular TV spot on an Albuquerque news channel called "Ruben's World" and it features him interviewing local sports figures. And if journalism doesn't work out, there's always the exotic pet business.
You see, Douglas has a passion for snakes. He owns a 9-foot Albino Burmese Python named Big Al which he plans on breeding.
"Man, you haven't lived until you've seen one of these beauties feed," said Douglas, explaining that his snake eats two full grown rabbits once a week. "They squeeze and squeeze until the eyeballs pop right out of their prey. I'm sure the animal rights people don't like hearing it, but I promise it's better than TV. My boys come over, and we throw in some rabbits and watch Big Al do his thing. I bet I could sell tickets."
It's not wise to doubt an entertainer capable of luring sellout crowds to the games of a 10-17 team. Because one thing is certain about the future of New Mexico's main attraction; wherever Ruben Douglas goes, a scintillating show is sure to follow.

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