Josh Ruggles wasn’t sure if his substitute teacher in Spanish class Monday was serious about wanting his autograph.
He was. By now, the Wheaton Academy junior probably shouldn’t be surprised.
Ruggles returned home to a hero’s welcome after defeating several European professional basketball players Saturday in the “Supercopa” 3-point shooting contest in Vitoria, Spain.
The 16-year-old Ruggles was the first high-schooler to be invited in the event’s history, and he showed no deference to his elders, defeating a trio of world-class shooters in the eight-man contest – including former Bulls forward Andres Nocioni – to claim the title.
Ruggles joked that there was “no regard for human life” among a crush of autograph- and photo-seekers after his performance, several of whom were Spanish girls.
“I’ve used pictures of all the girls with me to my advantage, for sure,” Ruggles said.
Ruggles was invited to compete in the “ACB” professional league’s showcase weekend after gaining global attention for making 135 out of 147 3-point shots in a 5-minute span in August.
In Vitoria, he defeated North Carolina State all-time 3-point leader Scott Wood in the quarterfinals, Nocioni in the semifinals and former Spanish league scoring champion Jaycee Carroll in the finals, winning a tiebreaker after both scorched the nets during their regular round.
Ruggles said his professional rivals were gracious.
“I know if I was in their position and I just lost to a high schooler, that’d be tough, I think, but they really accepted me and made me feel welcome, for sure,” Ruggles said. “They were really friendly but the guy I talked to most was Scott Wood, and I talked to Jaycee Carroll a good amount. A couple of them, I didn’t really know their names, but they were all extremely nice, very friendly and very congratulatory.”
The prize for winning the 3-point shootout was 4,000 euro – or a little more than $5,000 – but Ruggles was not allowed to accept it to preserve his amateur status.
He traveled to Spain with his parents – Dave and Holly – and older brother, Brandon. The brief trip’s focus was basketball, but Ruggles said he had time to develop an appreciation for Spaniards’ friendliness and, surprisingly, oxtail.
“If I had known it was oxtail I probably would not have had any interest in eating it, but it was actually good,” Ruggles said.
Ruggles won the IHSA King of the Hill 3-point contest in March, but this competition was vastly different, and not only because there were five racks of balls in each round as opposed to three. Ruggles had to contend with the distant travel and psychological hurdle of squaring off against pros while also acclimating to a deeper 3-point line (22 feet) and different ball used in Spain.
The 6-foot-1, 155 pound guard’s growing credentials have turned him into something of a celebrity, but Ruggles said “really it comes down to staying humble.”
“It’s just a 3-point contest,” he said. “Really there are so many more things in the world you can get a lot happier about and feel a lot more joy about. Helping someone out in a situation is better for the world than winning a 3-point contest, and it’s something I’ve really come to realize through the whole thing. … But at the same time, it is really cool.”