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“That was [Smith’s] choice,” Thomas said.

Even at this late date, Ruland isn’t sure how many players he has.

“But I have to be careful because I don’t just want to take guys to fill out the roster, either,” he said. “I want to do this the right way and build something right. We might have to take a step back before we go forward.”

Ruland excelled with the Bullets from 1981 to 1986 before going to Philadelphia as part of a deal that brought Moses Malone and draft picks to Washington.

At Iona, he led the Gaels to three NCAA tournaments. But a messy incident involving the firing of his entire staff and a lawsuit filed by a former assistant coach charging racism paved the way for Ruland’s firing in 2006 after an injury-riddled 2-28 season.

He said he wouldn’t mind restoring his own reputation as well as that of UDC.

“This is the first step toward doing something special,” he said.