CORVALLIS, Ore. – If you’re a St. Bonaventure fan watching the game Sunday night on television, the sound you hear raining from rafters of Gill Coliseum on the Oregon State campus will sound eerily similar to the one coming from your lips while sitting on the couch.
Ruth Hamblin is a fan favorite, you see. The 6-foot-6 center is as tall as she is kind, kind as she is dominant, dominant as she is intelligent, intelligent as she is humble. When she scores, which lately has been often, well-versed Beaver fans unleash their customary greeting.
You would be Ruuuuthing, too, if she didn’t play for the other team going into the second round of the NCAA Tournament, if you knew her background story about growing up on a farm in a tiny western Canadian town, the sacrifices she made to play basketball, gain an education and become a rocket scientist.
Hamblin is their Bob Lanier, circa 1970, long and left-handed, complete with a soft touch that makes her nearly unstoppable around the basket. At 6-6, She stands 5 inches taller than Katie Healy, making Hamblin the biggest tree in an Oregon State forest that believes it can boogie into the wee hours of the Big Dance.
In the first round, Hamblin had 18 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks in 21 minutes of the Beavers’ 73-31 rout of Troy. She had 23 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks in OSU’s win over UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game. She has averaged 15.8 points and 16.2 rebounds during their current five-game winning streak. She’s the two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year.
“Like, come on,” St. Bonaventure coach Jim Crowley said. “It’s like she was created. It’s so cool. It’s what sports is about and what it should be. She’s talented. She’s a great student. I don’t know, but she appears to be a really special kid.”
Here’s another reality: Hamblin isn’t even the Beavers’ best player. Jamie Weisner was voted the Pac-12 Player of the Year after leading Oregon State in scoring. The senior guard, who averaged 16.8 points per game, is bound to make an impact after being held to one basket against Troy.
Indeed, the Bonnies face a daunting challenge in the second round. Oregon State led the nation in field-goal defense, which matches up well against a Bona team that relies on perimeter shooting. Hamblin is a major road block inside who will stop dribble penetration. Oregon State is loaded with talent and depth.
“What she brings is size,” WNBA star and ESPN analyst Sue Bird said. “It’s one thing you can’t argue and is hard to overcome. Her impact is really felt on the defensive end more than anything. They put her in positions to be successful. They plop her in the middle and everybody funnels the ball to her and lets her be the helper. If you have five shooters out there, they can’t do that.”
What to do? It’s not rocket science. The Bonnies need to create mismatches on the outside and shoot extremely well to have a chance.
Hamblin is an ideal villain from more than 2,500 miles away. She even has a villain’s nickname, “The Canadian Hammer.” Remove the opponent and examine the person from close range, however, and you understand Oregon State fans have embraced her for reasons that extend beyond basketball.
“She’s a dream to coach,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said.
While growing up in the farmlands of Houston, B.C. (pop. 3,147), she woke up at dawn to feed 200 cattle and ride horses before school, attended class all day, worked on the farm until dusk and finished her homework before falling into bed. Her reward for all that hard work was doing it again the next day.
Keep in mind, Houston is north of north. She’s lived closer to Alaska than Vancouver while bailing hay and carrying feed to the cattle through harsh winter conditions. But that was her routine before finding basketball or, more accurately, basketball found her when she was a freshman in high school.
Naturally, someone saw her size and suggested she give hoops a try. The summer before her junior year of high school, raw but determined, her father drove her 13 hours from their home to Vancouver to try out for the British Columbia provincial team. The coaches found a project worth molding.
For two years, she left school early every Friday and made the long drive with her father down the plains and through the mountains for practice.
“We’d leave Friday, drive down, practice Friday night, practice twice on Saturday, once on Sunday and morning and get back,” she said. “There was no other option. We were all in at that point. My dad was like, ‘Well, Ruth, we’ll sacrifice this if it gets you a college education.’ It was a small expense.”
Thirteen hours in the car from Buffalo takes you to Minneapolis or Charlotte and heaven knows how many basketball outposts. But that’s what she did until she landed the scholarship to Oregon State. She showed up green, blossomed during her four years and is now in full bloom.
Hamblin did get that education, completing her degree in mechanical engineering days before the NCAA Tournament began. One of her projects included building a rocket for a competition that she and her partners recently sent on a test launch to 21,000 feet. Friday, she launched the Beavers into the second round.
You can’t help but admire anyone shooting for the stars.
“It’s been a long journey,” Hamblin said. “I never expected to play on a level anywhere near like this. I just kind of gritted my teeth and worked really hard. The second half of my senior season, I really caught a rhythm with my role and my strengths and how to use my gifts to help the team.”