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  • Writer's pictureBret Kehoe

RPI's Will Rubin is Playing it Smart

By Bret Kehoe and Dalton Boylan - Statistics say roughly six percent of high school student-athletes go on to play at the collegiate level. This competitiveness to continue athletic careers can often lead some students to make premature decisions during athletic recruitment. For Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Will Rubin, chasing a DI offer was a goal, but was always merely a part of the overall objective.


Rubin, a junior guard from Mount Kisco, NY recalls academics being just as much of a priority as any other endeavor, and when it came time to make a decision about his future, Rubin knew he had to balance the academic world with the world that exists between the lines on the court.


“I’m a believer that school smarts and basketball smarts are obviously different,” Rubin stated. “But you have to be intelligent in both to be successful in both.”


Rubin spent his high school years at Iona Preparatory School (NY), a well-established program in the Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA), where he watched a handful of teammates take the Division I path. After two years of hooping at Iona, Rubin began thinking about the allure of high-level college ball. After all, Iona stars Bryce Wills, Josh Alexander and Souleymane Koureissi all received DI offers, and all received praise from Rubin. Their success kept Rubin’s dream of a DI offer alive.


Unfortunately, those dreams took a hit for Rubin just as his junior season was about to tip off. On the doorstep of preparing to potentially take on a starting role with the aforementioned group of DI prospects, a broken foot halted Rubin’s season.


“It was a pretty stressful time,” explained Rubin. “That was the main year I was relying on teams to start recruiting me.”


After a five-month healing process, Rubin turned his attention to the upcoming AAU season in the hopes of making up for lost time. Despite the opportunity to refocus on basketball, the foot injury that once put a dent in his on-court aspirations had helped to more dramatically shift focus towards different options. DI offers were still a dream, but strong academic DII and DIII schools started to carry an even higher level of importance. Perhaps a broken foot could become a blessing in disguise.


“I knew I wanted to be somewhere where I could be pushed academically,” said Rubin. Hobart, Pace University, and RPI stood alone as his final three choices. “I ended up going with RPI and I am glad I did,” Rubin said with a smile. Every year since 1970, RPI has been ranked among the top 50 American universities by U.S. News & World Report.


To understand how Rubin got to where he is now, it’s essential to understand where he started. From his early days, Rubin has been blessed to have powerful influences that have helped him grow his game.


Steve Alvarado may be known as the successful head coach of Iona Preparatory Upper School, but to Rubin, he’s more like a consistent companion who’s aided in just as much growth on the court as off. Alvarado has already captured a NY Diocesan Regular Season Championship at the helm of Iona, but made his mark in a different way serving as Rubin’s coach and mentor at the prep academy.


“He instilled all the things I really learned from basketball at a young age,” Rubin stated. ”He would always instill in us the [value] of working together. I feel like I’m helping that aspect of my team now.”


Rewind even further and you’ll find Rubin’s relationship with Alvarado began when Will was in just fourth grade. As a young boy, Rubin befriended Alvarado’s triplet sons and recalls playing with all three throughout their youth. It was during this time that Rubin credits Alvarado for instilling many of those things he now knows about basketball. Rubin admitted that in his youth, his focus was primarily on baseball; his basketball game essentially nonexistent. He remembers playing hoops with the triplets; he also remembers Alvarado teasing him about his “pretty atrocious” jump shot. Rubin could not help but laugh when discussing the jump shot Alvarado would often compare to a baseball throw, something he was much more familiar with at the time. Rubin has come far, now leading RPI in three point percentage, at nearly 43 percent per contest.


As for Coach Alvarado, the relationship with Rubin is just as special to him. After Rubin’s official commitment to RPI, Alvarado shared a short message on Twitter explaining the dedication they have shown together since Will was 10 years old.


Just as important is Will’s mother, Michelle Rubin, a former point guard who attended the College of New Rochelle (NY). Michelle helped to foster her son’s love of the game, while being a driving force in equally putting his aforementioned academics in line with athletics. Despite the obvious athletic family genes, academics were always prioritized. Such attention is easy to see evidenced in Rubin’s 1380 SAT score.

Will does concede that there may be a couple things that do not completely please his parents - like his penchant for spending a bit too much time playing video games. In addition, Will is certain that his mother would love to see the removal of his beloved goatee.


It was, however, the dedication in the classroom, impressed upon Will by his parents that led him to RPI. As a business major, Rubin discussed how studies have applicably translated to basketball and mentions that working as a team “does not just apply on the basketball court.” A strong believer in teamwork, Rubin has found himself in more team-like situations both playing and studying at RPI.


Still, it’s hard to ignore what Rubin has done specifically in the gym. While his grades will never take a backseat, the guard can flat-out play. As a 6’3 point, Rubin displays a deep arsenal of handles and uses his quickness and vision to make plays. Rubin currently leads the Engineers in assists and uses his ability to penetrate off of the dribble, drawing contact and getting to the line, a place he also leads the team; shooting over 75 percent from the stripe.

Rubin arrived in Troy, New York with no expectations for his first year of college hoops. Despite this, he quickly stepped into a new role, seeing action in all 29 games as a freshman. The amount of on-court opportunities may have surprised some, but Rubin acknowledged he knew he was capable of playing at the collegiate level. That confidence was quickly evident as Will became a key contributor all throughout his first year.


A select instance stands out from that freshman campaign when RPI fought in a tightly contested Liberty League matchup against St. Lawrence (NY). In a game where Rubin recorded 15 points, seven assists and a steal, the most memorable moment came just before halftime when Rubin threw up a shot at the buzzer to send RPI into the locker room with all the momentum. Rubin remarked that he knew this matchup would be tough as, “once you get into league play, every game is a war.”


His standout freshman year wouldn’t stop there. After winning the Liberty League, RPI would go on to compete in the first round of NCAA tournament play. A nose injury required Rubin to wear a facemask at the start of the tournament but that didn’t slow him down. A heated opening-round matchup with New England College (NH) came down to the wire and when the final buzzer sounded, Will was there to catch the last rebound and rejoice after a 58-57 victory. The freshman logged 29 minutes in the contest and totaled seven rebounds in the end.


As the COVID-19 pandemic came into full effect, RPI was forced to cancel their 2020-21 year. After fully missing his sophomore season, Rubin stood even more determined to resume his growth as a collegiate basketball player.


Now in his junior year, Rubin has continued that expansion as a player. In his third season, he has started all 20 games and leads the team in minutes played. After one of the most successful seasons in RPI history in 2019-20, the team closing the year an impressive 24-5, the Engineers were eager to get back into the gym.


What stood out as RPI took the court for the first time in nearly a year? Stubbornness. The team plays with a defined intensity on the defensive side of the ball, a main focus that Rubin declares came from Coach Mark Gilbride and is one of the central reasons the Engineers have found so much recent success. Returners Dom Black, Patrick Mahoney and Mason Memmelaar gained an extra year of eligibility from the COVID-lost 2020-21 season and alongside Rubin, are prepared to take advantage of it.


As for life after basketball, Rubin plans to move back to the New York City area where he prefers the Westchester County weather much more than that of Albany. The perpetual chicken parmesan pre-game meals may have ruined his favorite food, but Rubin will always cherish the memories he’s made at RPI. Not to be outdone will be the top-notch degree he will receive.


While the recruitment process was not as he may have previously envisioned, Rubin made the decision to prioritize a high-level education, all while still being able to play basketball at a highly competitive level. His choice may stand as an example to other high school athletes who end up finding themselves in a similar position. The longstanding thought that a DI offer is all that matters quickly fades after talking to someone like Rubin who has found something more at a school that previously may have not been on his radar.


After hearing Rubin talk about his path to a DIII school; about how the gyms still find themselves getting packed; the competition still relentless; he remarks about how many of his DI friends acknowledge that the time and work that goes into playing collegiate basketball is evident at every level.

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