By Michael Muldoon
---- — SALEM — Rob McLaughlin sounds like a grizzled boxing cut man, Salem’s version of Mickey Goldmill of Rocky fame, when he describes Andrew Ruffen’s scar.
“It’s a nice nasty one over his kneecap,” said the third-year Salem High head coach almost admiringly. “It’s like the old-school ACL scars only right over the top of the knee. It’s pink and its raised up.”
Ruffen, who missed nearly his entire junior season, has pronounced himself 100 percent and ready to prove it during the 38th annual Greater Lawrence Christmas Tourney, which taps off Thursday with two first-round games at Lawrence High.
“It was the first scrimmage of the year, it was the first drive,” recalled Ruffen, a senior tri-captain. “I was going to the hoop. The kid took the charge. I fell straight on the knee. I heard a crack. I tried to walk it off. It kind of gave out on me.”
McLaughlin described it as a jigsaw puzzle. Thankfully, the doctors put the puzzle back together. It took screws, wires, diligent rehab and a second surgery in August, but the 6-3 guard-forward with the picture-perfect jump shot is ready to go.
He was the leading returning scorer last year, having averaged 5.0 points a game as a sophomore. It was going to be his year and his team. Until that Pelham scrimmage.
“It was the season I was looking forward to,” he said. “Joe Gallant and the seniors (had graduated).”
Ruffen, who has been on varsity since freshman year, tries to be philosophical about the setback.
“Better then (as a junior) than now,” said Ruffen, whose father starred at Salem and is a longtime youth coach in town. “It was one of the most depressing moments of my life. It’s made me stronger.”
The Blue Devils got a brutal draw for this year’s Christmas Tourney, opening with favored defending champion Central Catholic on Friday. Then in Round 2 they’ll meet Andover or North Andover, who are considered the next two best teams in the tourney.
“Obviously, it’s not what we were hoping for,” said Ruffen, who scored seven points in Friday’s season-opening 57-48 loss to Merrimack. “Central will be a challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”
The August surgery was a minor setback, but Ruffen, who also had an unrelated surgery on that same right knee as a freshman, has been doing well for a while. He was named honorable mention All-State after helping the Blue Devil volleyball team to the state championship last spring. Then he put on the high tops and starred in the Hoops for Hope Summer Basketball League and the Donovan’s Fall Ball League.
In the latter, he was named second-team All-League (five players made each team in the 12-team league) and tourney director Rick Gorman called him one of the area’s top shooters.
McLaughlin, a stickler for defense, loves that Ruffen is no longer just a shooter.
“He’s got a lot better taking the ball to the basketball,” he said. “In the last few years, his defense has really come along. We’re really looking for him to put some points up. We need that to be successful. He also has to take the challenge of covering one of the other team’s top one or two guys.”
Ruffen is being recruited by several schools with St. Joseph’s of Maine, Lasell College, Rivier, Norwich, Roger Williams and Wentworth his favorites.