REMSEN, Iowa | Boys basketball players at Remsen St. Mary’s are told to talk on the floor while playing defense.
And that is, speak to each other. If head coach Scott Ruden doesn’t hear communication in practice, the player in violation is told to run laps.
Nicholas Ruden is among the chatterers in the Hawks’ switching man-to-man defense. His defensive numbers (5 steals, 10 blocked shots) aren’t as flashy as senior classmates Brody Ricke (35 steals, 7 blocks), Derrick Schorg (17 steals, 5 blocks) or Carter Kuchel (16 steals, 1 block).
Ruden's floor general demeanor of sorts has helped the state’s third-ranked Class 1A squad go undefeated in the regular season (12-0) for the second straight year.
"I truly believe if we’re going to win a state championship it’s going to be because of our defense,” said the Sioux City Journal’s Siouxland Athlete of the Week, who became the school’s career scoring leader (1,097 points) following a 18-point performance in Friday’s 44-35 War Eagle Conference win over Le Mars Gehlen, surpassing 2017 graduate Jacob Wesselman (1,092).
The 6-foot-4 senior post is shooting 58.6 percent while averaging 16 points and 6.6 rebounds. A year ago, the Hawks yielded an average of 41.9 points prior to making their state tournament debut and last Friday, the WEC leaders improved their defensive average to 39.6 points, allowing less than 40 points in a game for the seventh time this season.
The 18-year old son of Scott and Caryn Ruden of Remsen begins his defensive assignment on a post sometimes bigger than himself. Here’s where communication comes into play as he and his teammates talk during the game to switch defensive assignments, Ruden moving next to take on a guard.
“Derrick’s the same as me, he’ll guard two or three,” said Ruden. “In this switching defense, you have to be ready for everyone. Sometimes Carter will take a big guy. He’s physical too. There’s no mismatch with our group.
“My role is to play as hard as I can, take the big guy and be physical. Other than that, I just do my job. I feel my length is good. I can take a big guy and be physical. I use my quickness to my advantage. I love blocking shots. That’s a big part of my game.”
Coach Ruden is in the second year of utilizing this defense he first saw at Briar Cliff. This season’s opponents are shooting just 34.2 percent.
The Hawks’ ninth-year coach said one of the keys against Gehlen was the defense the 6-2 Kuchel played on 6-5, 265-pound Bryan Nohava, a North Dakota State football recruit who has seven double-doubles. Ruden said Kuchel’s speed bothered Nohava, who was held to five points and eight rebounds.
“Everybody has the same role where you have to be able to defend a point guard, a shooting guard, a forward or a post,” said Coach Ruden. “Nicholas and Derrick Schorg are athletic enough that they can guard a point guard or guard a shooting guard.
“Nicholas has done a good job. He’s not overly quick, but he’s so lengthy that his athleticism makes up for his non-quickness. His length and ability gets him up in the air where he can play straight up. With his long arms he defends well. He used to be slow, but we got him on a workout program with agility and speed over the last two summers. His feet are quicker. I think he has room to grow yet.”
Ruden shot 57.8 percent a year ago primarily as a post for the fourth-place 1A state tourney squad. He’s moving around more this season, sometimes bringing the ball up court and often hoisting 3-point attempts. He’s well on his way to a fourth straight season of 20 or more 3-point connections.
“I know we lost key scorers from last year,” said Ruden. “I averaged the most, but I don’t take that into this year. I want to get my teammates more involved.
“Teams are guarding me hard. I expect them to do that. I’m trying to take that role where I take the opponents’ best defender and I get my teammates more involved. That’s my role this year.”
A.J. Plitzuweit, Vermillion.... The senior guard scored 52 points, 44 coming in the second half of Friday’s 72-66 win over Lennox. The son of University of South Dakota women’s basketball coach Dawn Plitzuweight has averaged 36.3 points in his last three games.
Sydney Baumgartner, Le Mars.... The senior guard hit two free throws with 9.4 seconds left to help the No. 8 (Class 4A) Bulldogs defeat No. 1 (3A) Sioux Center 55-54, then scored the game-winning basket as time ran out in a 49-48 win over No. 3 (2A) Western Christian.