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Finally healthy, Javon Ruffin ready to mix it up with CU Buffs men’s basketball

Knee, back injuries sidelined Ruffin entire '21-22 season

BOULDER, CO – November 13, 2021: Javon Ruffin before the Montana State game. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER, CO – November 13, 2021: Javon Ruffin before the Montana State game. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

There might not be another player on the Colorado men’s basketball team enjoying summer workouts more than Javon Ruffin.

For the first time since he arrived on campus a year ago, Ruffin is completely healthy.

It was a lost rookie season for Ruffin, who arrived at CU with an injured knee and saw his attempt to at least rejoin the Buffaloes for late-season practices waylaid by a back injury.

Ruffin is trying to make those struggles history. In that spirit, he recently ditched the bulky knee brace that has been part of the equation for the past year. For Ruffin, ditching the brace means the confidence is back, which is a critical step for any player returning from a prolonged injury absence.

“I decided to get rid of it,” Ruffin said. “It’s over a year out. They kind of told me after a year I could maybe get rid of it. Mentally, I’m confident enough to go play without it and not be timid or worried about it. It’s good to get rid of it. It’s too big to be out there playing all the time.”

A year ago, the Buffs welcomed a recruiting class ranked at the top of the Pac-12 and in the top 20 nationally. CU, though, essentially received about half of the possible manpower contributions from the five-player class. While guards KJ Simpson and Julian Hammond III remained in the rotation the entire season, Ruffin and Quincy Allen (hip) both missed the entire year due to injuries. The fifth freshman, 7-foot-1 Lawson Lovering, played about half the season before getting sidelined by a knee injury.

For Ruffin, the trouble began with a dislocated right kneecap more than a year ago that required surgery. Ruffin, the son of former NBA veteran and one-time Cherry Creek star Michael Ruffin, still took aim at a potential midseason comeback, but during the preseason last fall his knee required a second surgery, described by CU head coach Tad Boyle at the time as a “clean up” procedure, that essentially doomed Ruffin to a redshirt season.

Still, Ruffin was able to return to practice over the winter and was hoping to at least get workouts in down the stretch. However, a back injury once again relegated Ruffin to the training room. The summer workouts have featured a fully healthy Ruffin for the first time since he arrived at CU.

“It’s great to see him out on the floor,” Boyle said. “It’s great to see him going up and down and not having to watch from the sidelines. Instead of being stuck with the trainers or the strength coach he’s one of the guys now. That’s good. His shot looks more fluid. It’s good to have a big guard out there with some size and strength. Next year is going to be like his freshman year even though he’s a redshirt freshman.

“It’s still going to be a jump for him. Hopefully the (muscle) memory comes back to him. He’s a good player. A solid, smart player and we’re looking forward to his contributions.”

At 6-foot-5, Ruffin is the sort of bigger guard that could be in abundance in the 2022-23 rotation. Behind incumbent two-guard starter Nique Clifford is a glut of big-bodied guards who could give Boyle plenty of options along the perimeter, a list that includes Ruffin, 6-foot-4 freshman RJ Smith, 6-foot-5 Yale transfer Jalen Gabbidon, 6-foot-3 Princeton transfer Ethan Wright, and even the 6-foot-8 Allen.

“I haven’t played in a game in over a year,” Ruffin said. “This is what I love to do. I’m ready for the season, but I know right now I’m not as good as I’m going to be at the beginning of the season. I’ve just got to keep working and make sure get there and earn myself a spot.”