USI’s Orlando Rutledge, the team’s leading scorer last season, was officially declared academically ineligible for the first semester on Monday. But I’d been chasing this for what seems like months. I first heard about the possibility over the summer, but only got comments like, “We’re working on it.” So I waited, kept checking back and finally was told off the record that it didn’t look good, that Rutledge almost assuredly wouldn’t be playing in USI’s first seven games. On Monday the official word came down.
I don’t think it’s quite the disaster some USI fans may make it out to be. Sure, Rutledge’s 6-6 height and long arms were a plus, both offensively and defensively. But he was often inconsistent — some games he was the hottest shooter on the floor (recall his 33 points on 12-for-16 shooting in the victory over Wisconsin-Parkside in the GLVC Tournament semifinals last March) while in others he was almost non-existent (recall his eight points on 2-for-9 shooting in the 63-59 home loss to Lewis on Feb. 7). To be fair, he had the offensive weight of the (USI) world on his shoulders. He was the Eagles’ only legitimate outside scoring threat the entire season. When defenses collapsed on 6-10 center Keith DeWitt, USI only had Rutledge to keep them honest and he sometimes wasn’t up to the task.
Before I go any further, let’s emphasize this once and for all: I am NOT putting Rutledge down. He needed help and didn’t get it. That said, this season may have been different with the addition of shooting guards Alex Marzette and, in particular, Gavin Schumann, who averaged more than 18 points per game in junior college last season. Such a scoring combo — not one but THREE perimeter shooters gunning down zones for USI — may still come about if Rutledge regains his eligibility for the spring semester. Interestingly, he would return for USI’s second game against archrival Kentucky Wesleyan, Dec. 21 at USI’s PAC. That could turn out to be quite a sendoff for the team into Christmas break and right before the GLVC schedule begins.