Oct. 18, 2002
Each Friday during the school year, VU director of media relations Mike Sheridan takes you inside the Villanova Men's Basketball program with notes, quotes and anecdotes from the Wildcats.
As an only child growing up in Sewell, N.J., Lou Ruskey was accustomed to having his own space. If he chose to hang out in his room, he did so. If the program on the television wasn't to his liking, he could lobby his parents to hand him the remote.
His was the lone youthful voice in the Ruskey household.
Then, in the fall of 1996, that all changed. An exchange student from England was on his way to Saint Augustine's Prep in New Jersey and it was decided that he would live with the Ruskeys. This visitor was said to be a gifted basketball player and Lou seemed a logical host given that he was a point guard on the team.
Suddenly, 16-year old Lou wasn't really an only child any more.
"In the beginning it was an adjustment for both of us," recalls Ruskey, a senior walk-on about to begin his second season as a member of the Wildcats men's basketball team. "I had gotten used to being the only kid in the house and I know that he missed his mom back in England.
"That first year he was very shy."
Yet Sullivan's athletic gifts were unmistakable.
"I remember when we first played together," Ruskey says. "I was amazed. Here was a guy who was taller than our center who could play on the wing and in the open court. You could just see how good he was."
On the court Sullivan quickly made an impact. By the time he was a junior he was listed among the top 100 players in his class by most major recruiting publications. Colleges took notice and it wasn't long before he was hearing from a cross-section of Big East and Atlantic Ten programs.
As he grew closer to his adopted family and new friends, Sullivan began to emerge from his shell.
"It took a little while," states Ruskey. "But after that first year we all got to see what a great guy he is. His personality started to shine through. He fit in with our group of friends and we're still friends with a lot of those same people now."
Today, Sullivan and Ruskey remain good friends and teammates. Together they join Ricky Wright and Gary Buchanan as the seniors on a Villanova basketball roster that has inspired several organizations, including espn.com, cnnsi, and the Blue Ribbon Yearbook, to include the 'Cats in preseason top 25 polls.
"It's funny how it's worked out that we are teammates again," Ruskey says. "It's great. We started out together and we are going to end it together."
Their paths to this point have run parallel to one another, if not in tandem. After leading St. Augustine's to a Class B Parochial state championship in 1999, both headed for Villanova. But Sullivan came as part of noted recruiting class while Ruskey did so only as a student.
In his first two seasons on the Main Line, Sullivan struggled to find a niche in the lineup. As a freshman, his defense on Robert O'Kelley helped Villanova upend No. 19 Wake Forest in the Rainbow Classic. But he played only 20 games as a sophomore and did not play due to coach's decision in five of the last seven games in 2000-01.
There were questions raised about just what Sullivan's future was at Villanova.
When Jay Wright was named head coach in late March, though, the skies for Sullivan began to clear. The transfer of classmate Aaron Matthews opened playing time at the three spot and Sullivan immediately benefited from Wright's passion for defensive intensity.
"It took a little while for us to pick up what coach Wright wanted us to do," says Sullivan, "but once we did, it felt good. It probably helped my game."
Sullivan's strengths played to Wright's philosophy. The forward emerged as Villanova's top defender on a tour of Italy and maintained that role throughout the 2001-02 campaign. He was the only Wildcat to start all 32 games, connected on .529 of his field goal attempts and chipped in with 5.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
"Andrew," says Jay Wright, "developed to the point where he was a defensive stopper for us. He did a great job on guys like Jason Kapono (UCLA) and Marvin O'Connor."
Quite simply, Sullivan looked more confident and played that way.
This summer he added to that supply of self-worth. In addition to spending countless hours honing his jump shot, the 6-7 Sullivan traveled to England with a team of collegians sponsored by Sport Tours International. The club was coached by former college coach Tates Locke and Sullivan played well according to all accounts.
"It was great for me," says Sullivan. "I learned a lot and it was lucky for me that the tour was in England, so I got to be at home some."
It is worth noting that Sullivan's best seasons of basketball have come with Ruskey as a teammate. After concentrating on his academics in the first two years at Villanova, Ruskey made the Wildcats as a walk-on last October. Though he played in just 10 games last year, he contributes in assorted other ways to the Wildcats cause. And while neither is especially vocal about it - or much else for that matter - it is apparent that the bond between the pair is strong.
Now they hope to finish off their college career in a fashion reminiscent of their prep careers.
Sullivan figures to play a significant role for the Wildcats.
"I'm a lot more confident in myself now than I was earlier in my career," he says.
He also hopes that his basketball career extends beyond 2002-03. But that's for later.
"Right now," he says, "I just want to focus on us getting better as individuals and as a team."
If Sullivan thrives, you can be sure Ruskey will be among the first to high-five him coming off the floor. The same will be true when the situation is reversed.
"Lou and his family have been great to me," Sullivan says.
Jay Wright speaks often about family.
In the case of Sullivan and Ruskey, those family ties were in place even before the pair reached the Main Line...
Earlier in the week, villanova.com reported that Gary Buchanan suffered a slight fracture of his left thumb and will be re-evaluated near the end of October. The injury occurred in practice on Oct. 14.
"I was at the top of the key guarding Jason (Fraser)," says Buchanan. "I was tracing him when he made a fake. My thumb hit his forearm."
So this week Buchanan has been standing impatiently on the sidelines. The 6-3 senior is limited to aerobic work (on the stairmaster) and some defensive drills that do not involve a basketball.
"No catching, dribbling or live stuff," he states.
Much as he dislikes missing practice in his senior year, Buchanan understands things could have been worse.
"Dr. (Rob) Good told me it was a clean break and that improves the chances for it to heal quickly," Buchanan notes.
"Plus," he says with a smile, "it's not my shooting hand."
Indeed, the right hand with which Buchanan has scored most of his 1,399 career points is fine. And the hope is that the injured left thumb, currently wrapped, will heal itself in plenty of time for Buchanan to be available for the season opener on Nov. 15 vs. Marquette...