Javon Ruffin’s uncooperative knee is going to cost him a second college basketball season.
Colorado’s highly touted 2021 recruiting class has suffered another setback as Ruffin will miss the entire 2023-24 season due to a knee issue that has plagued him since his arrival in Boulder two years ago.
Ruffin, who also redshirted during his true freshman season of 2021-22 while recuperating from the initial injury, endured his third knee procedure in less than two years in April. A spark at times off the bench this past season and a bright spot from long range on a Buffaloes team that struggled from the 3-point arc, Ruffin was limited to 24 games due to recurring knee problems.
“It sucks. I just love playing basketball and that’s the reason I’m here,” Ruffin said. “It sucks having that taken away from me for another year. But I’m pretty optimistic about it. I didn’t feel a hundred percent before the surgery. Even all last year. I’m just hoping that this can get me back close to 100% as I can be.”
Ruffin initially suffered a dislocated kneecap prior to his arrival at CU and underwent surgery to repair cartilage damage. Ruffin missed the summer workouts ahead of his true freshman season at CU but was going through preseason workouts before a setback again sent him to the surgical ward for a clean-up procedure. Ruffin returned to practice on a limited basis late in the year but took a redshirt season.
Declared fully healthy and playing brace-free to start this past season, Ruffin earned a rotation spot and was a huge part of CU’s rout of then-No. 24 Texas A&M at the Myrtle Beach Invitational, going 4-for-6 with a pair of 3-pointers before finishing with a season-high 14 points.
Ultimately, however, Ruffin’s knee didn’t hold up, and he missed 11 games over two different stints on the sideline beginning in mid-January. Magnifying those frustrations for Ruffin is that in each instance he had put together some of the best games of the season before getting forced to the bench.
In Jan. 12 loss at USC, Ruffin hit three 3-pointers, scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds. Two days later at No. 7 UCLA, Ruffin went 7-for-7 at the free throw line and posted 11 points, but he missed the next four games.
Ruffin re-acclimated slowly, going a combined 3-for-10 with 10 points in his first three games back before enjoying a standout trip to Arizona. In one of CU’s more impressive Pac-12 performances, the Buffs posted a win at Arizona State on Feb. 16 in large part thanks to Ruffin, who scored eight of his 10 points in the final 4 minutes, 30 seconds as part of a game-closing 17-3 run by the Buffs. Ruffin also grabbed a season-best seven rebounds before scoring 13 points — his second-best total of the season — in a loss at No. 8 Arizona two nights later.
That, however, proved to be Ruffin’s final salvo of the season. His knee kept him sidelined for the final seven games, and Ruffin won’t return to the floor until at least the start of the 2024-25 season.
In 24 games (two starts), Ruffin shot .358 on 3-pointers and averaged 6.0 points.
“It’s definitely frustrating. It sucks to see that I can succeed and that I can be a good player at this level, and then not be able to show it anymore,” Ruffin said. “It sucks watching the team play knowing there’s nothing I can do to help them on the court. But I know when I come back, I’m going to be better than I was before.”
Ruffin was part of a 2021 recruiting class ranked at the top of the Pac-12 and 13th in the nation by 247Sports.com. But KJ Simpson and Julian Hammond III are the only remaining active players for the Buffs from that class, with Ruffin set to miss his second season in three years while Quincy Allen (James Madison) and Lawson Lovering (Utah) have transferred out of the program.
“It stinks. There’s no other way to put it, it absolutely stinks,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “He and I had some pretty frank discussions in the spring when it became apparent this was going to be the case. It wasn’t maybe to the same degree as my conversations with Evan (Battey) after his stroke, or Dallas (Walton) after his third ACL, but you’ve got to understand if you’re willing to take this on mentally as much as physically. Do you still want to play college basketball? Those are questions he had to answer for himself, and I had to hear from him. He wants to do it. He’s ready to commit to the rehab. Now he’s got to go do it.”
As for Ruffin, he said he never wavered in his desire to make another comeback. Unlike the initial procedure he endured two years ago before attempting a comeback that fall, Ruffin is confident taking the full season to recover will help him finally get back to full strength.
“I knew I wanted to come back,” Ruffin said. “Obviously this isn’t the journey I wanted, but my end goal is still the same. My goal is just for this to be the last one. There’s a lot of things I learned from the first time. I just know I don’t want to go through this again if I can avoid it. I’m going to do whatever I can to do that.”
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