WILLIAMSBURG — There's a saying around William and Mary Basketball World Headquarters: Do your work early. It has nothing to do with the town's glut of pancake houses or a latent Amish streak in head coach Tony Shaver.
The phrase is a reminder for players to get where they're supposed to be as quickly and crisply as possible, in every drill, every possession, every game. Doing so gives the Tribe the best chance to execute its sets, at both ends of the floor.
No one has worked earlier or more efficiently than Tim Rusthoven. William and Mary's junior forward is in the midst of a quietly remarkable season. If he's not careful, he may wind up in the discussion of the Colonial Athletic Association's best big men in a year littered with quality post players.
"He's our most consistent player," Shaver said. "He's one of those rare players, in that you know what you're going to get almost every day from Tim Rusthoven. He's a complete player, in the sense that he can really score the ball. A lot of that comes from having great hands and feel for where to go, where to be.
"He always gives you great effort on the boards, at both ends of the floor. And I love the way he's defending, too. He's battling bigger, stronger people in most cases, and does a great job. I don't think a lot of people look at Tim Rusthoven and think 'tough.' But he's a tough kid."
Rusthoven is the Tribe's No. 2 scorer at 14.9 points per game, heading into Saturday's noon affair against Hofstra. He is the team's leading rebounder (7.3) and shoots 53.8 percent from the field, tied for second in the conference. He has a better assist-to-turnover ratio than W&M's two primary ballhandlers: Brandon Britt and Marcus Thornton.
Rusthoven isn't the Tribe's most gifted player, which he readily admits. He is W&M's most important player. He provides a post presence for a team that plays outside-in, that spreads the floor and attempts to create space for passers and cutters and perimeter shooters. He forces opponents to defend honestly and not simply concentrate on the Tribe's wings and guards.
"The beauty of this team is that we have so many guys who can score the ball," Rusthoven said. "It is my role to score, but I'm not the only one. There are some games, if I'm on a hot streak, they'll say, keep getting it to Tim. In that case, I try to be more aggressive.
"But there are times when Marcus gets hot or Brandon gets hot, or Kyle (Gaillard) or Julian (Boatner). Really, it's whoever has the hot hand. But I do feel there's been times this year when I can help our team by scoring."
Rusthoven has the third-highest offensive rating in the CAA, according to hoops numbers guru Ken Pomeroy (a formula that takes into account points produced, offensive rebounds and assists, minus turnovers, missed shots and negative plays). He has a higher rating than top-shelf talents such as Drexel's Damion Lee, Mason's Sherrod Wright, Towson's Jerrelle Benimon, Delaware's Devon Saddler and UNCW's Keith Rendleman.
Rusthoven's efficiency prompted the Tribe to tweak its offense, to make him the hub, give him more touches and run sets through him more often.
In a recent loss at Northeastern, Shaver was three different kinds of cheesed off at the Tribe's dismal first-half performance. He demanded that Rusthoven get a touch on every possession of the second half. The players didn't quite comply, but the message was delivered. He finished with a career-high 25 points and 11 rebounds as the Tribe came back and took the league leaders to double overtime.
"I love his game," Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. "He goes about his job in a workmanlike fashion. He's an extremely smart player. He knows how to score. He never gives up. He battles you physically and mentally. I think he's right up there with the better big men in the conference."
Rusthoven's production is up this season in large part because he's been healthy for an extended period. A stress fracture in his left foot in the fall of 2011 scuttled preseason conditioning and forced him to miss the first couple weeks of last season. He wasn't completely healthy or fit until February. Back pain limited his conditioning before his freshman year.
Rusthoven arrived a bit bigger and stronger this season. He is up to 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds after adding 10 pounds. The extra strength and experience translate to improved play and fewer instances where he gets pinballed around near the basket, which was often the case his first two years.
"I think mentally, I'm a little stronger than I was last year," Rusthoven said. "Just being able to handle the grind of CAA games and tough games and being able to battle with guys all game."
Battling gets to self-awareness and the Tribe credo of working early. He seeks any edge possible against quality big men such as Rendleman, Benimon, Delaware's Jamelle Hagins, Drexel's tandem of Daryl McCoy and Dartaye Ruffin, and JMU's Rayshawn Goins.
"I'm not the biggest or strongest guy out there," Rusthoven said, "so I have to work hard on every possession. I have to outwork people."
Rusthoven's work includes getting to the correct spots on the floor on offense and denying opposing big men their preferred spots whenever possible. His perimeter shooting ability pulls opponents away from the basket to defend him. He is an improved finisher with both hands.
He finds open teammates, an invaluable quality in big men. He is the only post player in the CAA with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. Only Benimon (56) has more assists than Rusthoven (38) among big men, and the Tigers' forward has three times as many turnovers (86-to-29).
"We have so many guys who can shoot the ball," Rusthoven said, "I want to get the ball to open guys. If they double me or I'm not shooting the ball well, I still get a lot of attention and that means guys are open."
The Huskies' Coen said, "He's perfect for their system because he can score the ball inside and out, and he's a terrific passer. And he's got a great mind for the game. Whenever we play them, we're always concerned about where he is. He continues to get better and he's been a challenge for us each and every time we've played against him."
Rusthoven wouldn't be the first player chosen in a draft of CAA big men, but he's trying to look the part. He cultivated a beard that he rather enjoys, though he's felt obligated to shave it off for class presentations (memo to professors: don't downgrade for facial hair).
"I need something to make me look intimidating," he cracked.
Even with the beard, Rusthoven's appearance is more apprentice lumberjack or garage band bass player than college basketball standout. That could change if he continues to work early and get the Tribe where it wants to go.
"I think if you asked around the league who the top two centers are, I don't think his name would come up," Shaver said. "In fact, I'm sure it won't. But I'll take him."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times