'I wanted to be my father.' Ron Rutland III carries on family legacy in basketball, at Attucks

Kyle Neddenriep
Indianapolis Star
View Comments

After practice Wednesday afternoon at Crispus Attucks, Ron Rutland III asked his father how many Marion County tournament championships he won as a player.

The answer: Two. And Marion County Player of the Year.

“OK, that means we have to win City again and I have to win City Player of the Year,” Rutland III said with a laugh.

High standards? Certainly. Before Rutland III even played at game at Crispus Attucks, coach Chris Hawkins talked about the basketball legacy of his father, Ron Rutland Jr. But the Rutland name goes back another generation at Crispus Attucks.

Ron Rutland Jr.’s father and Rutland III’s grandfather, the original Ron Rutland, was a sweet-shooting guard for coach Bill Garrett’s Attucks’ teams in the 1960s. Rutland Sr. started for two seasons, leading the Tigers to a 14-7 record as a senior in 1965-66.

Ron Rutland Jr. (left) and Ron Rutland III. Rutland Jr. was a star player at Pike and the University of Indianapolis before going on to play eight years professionally. His son, Ron Rutland III, is a senior at Crispus Attucks, where his grandfather played in the 1960s. Rutland III signed to play in college at UIndy.

Rutland was in the Army, just 20 years old, when Rutland Jr. was born. Rutland returned home to work for Indiana Bell and played basketball in the industrial league. Rutland Jr., at 8, 9, 10 years old, would tag along and watch his dad play.

“I wanted to be my father,” Rutland Jr. said. “I wanted to be as good as he was. That was my drive.”

Rutland Sr., who died in 2021 at age 72, was not born into a basketball family. “My grandmother tried to keep him from playing,” Rutland Jr. said with a laugh. But as the family story goes, Rutland Jr.’s great uncle John Ford, who played at Attucks in the late 1940 and early ‘50s, convinced his sister to led Rutland play organized basketball.

“He tried to have that influence of pushing him to play,” Rutland Jr. said. “He saw the talent.”

Almost 60 years later, the Rutland name is synonymous with basketball. That has much to do with the success of Rutland Jr., who is still playing in the 50-and-over leagues. His family moved to Pike Township when he was in fifth grade, and he came up through the Red Devils’ program coach by Ed Siegel, who was in the process of building one of the state’s top programs.

Unlike his father, who was a pure scorer, Rutland Jr. was a point guard for Siegel. As a junior in 1985-86, Pike won the county and finished 19-6 after falling in a heartbreaker to Tyrone Tracy, Paul Huff and Henry Williams of Ben Davis.

The following year as a senior, Rutland averaged 19.6 points and 5.1 assists and led Pike to its second regional title in program history before falling to Mt. Vernon in the semistate. He was named Marion County Player of the Year and second-team all-state.

“My father was a scorer at Attucks, and I was a point guard,” Rutland Jr. said. “He wanted me to be a shooter and put points up, which kind of became my role more as a senior. We’d have our battles. But once I got to college, I was a point guard. I was a student of the game and I’d watch basketball all day and luckily, I was around great coaches to learn from.”

That’s where the Rutland basketball story makes another full circle. Rutland Jr. went on to play for Bill Green at the University of Indianapolis, where he scored 1,734 career points (ninth in program history) and still holds the all-time assists record (547). Rutland Jr. is also third on the school’s career list in steals (182) and fourth in single-season scoring average (24.9 ppg as a senior in 1990-91).

Crispus Attucks' Ron Rutland (5) poses for a photo Tuesday Oct. 24, 2023, at The Indianapolis Star.

When UIndy coach Paul Corsaro started recruiting his son, Rutland Jr. had to disengage his personal feelings.

“At first when they came into the fold, it kind of surprised me a little bit,” Rutland Jr. said. “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t about me. And they proved to me that they really, really liked him. Then it made it a little easier.”

Rutland III said UIndy’s style of play and recent success — a 10-5 record this season, coming off last year’s 26-5 record and Division II Midwest Region quarterfinal appearance — was appealing to him.

“The coaches are always calling and texting me, checking up and supporting me,” Rutland III said. “They’ve told me how my game matches up with them and their play style.”

Rutland Jr. and wife Meshia have a younger daughter, freshman McKenzi, who plays basketball at North Central. Rutland III was coached by his father in travel basketball growing up, all the way through last summer. That includes film study at home.

“Sometimes I don’t like it,” Rutland III said with a laugh. “You know what’s about to happen if you made a bad play. But sometimes you need to go back and watch it. It helps to go back and see what you could have done different. If I see it, ‘Boom, boom.’ I know how to fix it. That’s how I am in everything, even school.”

Rutland III grew quickly through middle school but topped out at 6-2. It was the opposite of his father, who was always one of the shorter kids on his teams before hitting a late growth spurt.

“He was always one of the tallest kids on his team and I thought he might be 6-4 or 6-5,” Rutland Jr. said. “We worked on shooting first before we started working on ballhandling. When I saw him start to plateau a little bit with his height, I tried to help him change some things dynamically with the way he played.”

Crispus Attucks guard Ron Rutland III (5) shoots the ball during the 2023 Indiana Hall of Fame Classic. Crispus Attucks defeats Brownstown 76-51.

Rutland Jr. said UIndy brought up the idea of Rutland III playing point guard “before I even thought of it.” The focus during last year’s travel season was getting Rutland III accustomed to playing point guard.

“He thinks like a point guard,” his father said. “But having the ball in your hands 75 or 80% of the time is different. I did it so I understand it. We were able to start to prepare him mentally and physically for that role.”

Rutland III does a little bit of both for Crispus Attucks. After averaging 18.0 points and 3.1 assists last season as a junior, while shooting 39.7% from the 3-point line, he is averaging 13.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists as a senior, shooting 39.4% (28-for-71) from the 3-point line. The strength of Attucks’ team is its balance with four players —– 6-8 junior Dezmon Briscoe (15.6 ppg, 10.9 rebounds), Rutland, North Central transfer Mason Lewis (11.8 ppg, 4.6 assists) and junior Chris Hurt (10.8 ppg, 3.9 assists) — averaging in double figures.

Class 4A No. 8 Attucks (11-3) is the defending City tournament champion. If the Tigers can get through host Tech in the City semifinal on Saturday, a matchup against No. 6 Cathedral (10-1) could be waiting in the wings in Monday’s championship. The Tigers have their eyes on that title and possibly more.

“Our goal is for state this year,” Rutland III said. “I think we can do that.”

A Rutland winning it at Attucks would be something special, even for a Pike Red Devil. Rutland Jr. grew up hearing stories from his father and his friends about Oscar Robertson’s Attucks’ teams of the 1950s. The school was the first all-Black school in the country to win a state championship in Robertson’s junior season of 1954-55, then won it again the following season as Robertson was named IndyStar Mr. Basketball.

“That was my introduction to Attucks’ history,” said Rutland Jr., who played one season in the Continental Basketball Association before going on to play seven years professionally overseas. “Understanding that history and the prominent players that came out of there and knowing my father was one of them was a big deal to me.”

Rutland III knew the Attucks history prior to attending school there. But he has a different view it from the inside.

“I know a lot more about it now,” he said. “Hearing it from the outside is not the same as seeing the full aspect of it.”

Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.

View Comments