Happy to be back in play

New Southern Hoiho signing Nicole Ruske prepares to take a free throw for Otago at the under-23...
New Southern Hoiho signing Nicole Ruske prepares to take a free throw for Otago at the under-23 national championships before her break from top-level basketball. PHOTO: ANGELA RUSKE
Nicole Ruske knows there will be nerves when she steps back on court.

That is not unexpected.

When she suits up for the Southern Hoiho in the new Tauihi Basketball Aotearoa, it will be three years since she last played on the national stage.

The 1.76m guard had been "riding a high" after starring for the Otago Gold Rush in its 2018 champion season, earning a Tall Ferns call-up on her 19th birthday in the process.

There was pressure that came with that the following season.

But more than anything, she found she was constantly missing study for basketball, and had to pull out of her degree.

The flip side of that high had made her realise she had no fallback.

So when she decided to begin an architecture degree in 2020, basketball took a back seat as she focused on study.

Now, in the final year of her degree, she is ready to come back.

The 22-year-old was excited to sign with the Hoiho, and return to a league which promises to be much stronger than the one she left.

"I think it’s made me realise a lot more of what I want to do and how I want to go about it," Ruske said.

"It’s taught me a lot of other stuff. I’ve never really gone super hard on study. So I was excited to have a chance to do that and excel at something else, not just basketball.

"The way I was playing and the level I was holding myself to, at times, was quite high.

"I think it took quite a toll on my mental state. I think I really mentally needed a break from the game as well, just to work on that side of things.

"I’m actually glad I had the break. It’s going to be one of those things to see if I can get back into it.

"I’d love to be able to. I hope if I train hard and work hard, me having that break won’t affect how I play this season."

Ruske has stayed in basketball locally, remaining a key player for Ajax in the women’s club league.

She was selected in the All Star Five and notably poured in five three-pointers in a devastating 30-point haul to take the game away from a handy Varsity team in last year’s semifinal.

It had been enough to keep her enjoying the game, concentrating on fun, rather than the need to strive for a high level.

Even when the Gold Rush went to Auckland for the NBL over the past two years, she had been content with her decision to sit out.

This year she had been likely to return anyway, although when Tauihi was announced — the new league putting women on equal footing with men — it was an easy decision.

"I think it was one of those times when I looked at the [Gold Rush] and they were having lots of fun and obviously they did well.

"But, for me, I was able to step back and say I wasn’t ready to come back. I think the break was good for me.

"Looking at this new league, when I got asked if I wanted to play, immediately I was like, ‘Yes’.

"There was no doubt I didn’t want to play this season. I think the time off was what I needed to get my motivation and love of the game back. Come back this season and hopefully do some good stuff."

Ruske follows fellow Dunedin Tall Fern and former St Hilda’s Collegiate team mate Zoe Richards in signing with the Hoiho.

The team begins its season on June 29.

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