Matt Ruesga is a hard-to-miss type of person.
It’s difficult not to use the word “emotional” when describing the Turlock High boys basketball player. Because of those emotions, he’s gotten in trouble with the refs and his coaches can’t help but keep a watchful eye on him.
However, his teammates love him for that.
Ruesga is the spark plug off the bench who averages about 8 points, isn’t afraid to take offensive charges and is unable to hide his excitement when his team is doing well. He’s a big reason why the Bulldogs are 11-7 overall and 5-1 in the Central California Conference after Friday’s win over Buhach Colony High. But to get to this point, the senior forward has traveled a troubled path.
“It was a wake-up call,” he said.
Ruesga played two years of basketball at Turlock before he “started messing around, not doing my work and got kicked out,” he said. He began attending Hilmar High. During this time, he’d bump into Turlock coach Doug Cornfoot around town and they’d talk.
Ruesga said he wanted to play for the Bulldogs again.
Cornfoot told him things had to change. His grades had to improve, as well as his attitude. Ruesga listened, and he eventually was admitted back to Turlock High, where he quickly became a crowd and team favorite for his never-quit persona and his willingness to dive for loose balls and rebound.
“Matt, he brings toughness,” teammate and junior guard Alek Carlson said. “He takes charges. He gets in the other team’s heads and everything and just plays hard. He brings a lot of toughness to the team.”
“The only person I been around like that is probably Matt,” teammate Da’Shawn Holcombe said.
Ruesga has gotten in trouble, but it pertains to his behavior on the court. Against Atwater High earlier this season, he got a technical foul. Cornfoot pulled him out of the game and told him, “The refs are watching and listening.”
Besides his on-court demeanor, Ruesga also sports tattoos on his right arm that might add an element of intimidation to opposing players and referees. But they might not know that he has maintained a 2.5 or above GPA, enough to keep him on the team.
“That was a big motivation for me, to actually do my work,” he said. “This team is my family and I have to stick with them.”
Refs and opposing players also might not know something else about Ruesga.
“He’s an aide for me during the day and he’s full of life,” Cornfoot said. “Part of his problem is that he speaks his mind and sometimes he doesn’t think before he speaks. He’s a very emotional player, but he probably works the hardest out of anybody on our team, whether it’s practices or games. If he can bottle that emotion and we can teach him to not show and speak it during the game, he could be a very good player; he even can play at the next level.”
Against crosstown rival Pitman High on Wednesday night, Ruesga was once again a spark plug off the bench. He hit a short jumper in the fourth quarter that tied up the game, helping the Bulldogs to a 48-40 win.
He helps out in other ways, too.
After Holcombe, a sophomore, turned the ball over in the final seconds that allowed Golden Valley High earn an important win on Jan. 14, Ruesga was quick to offer support.
“It’s just one game,” he told Holcombe. “We’ve got them two more times.”
Everyone deserves a second chance.
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