From the Newsstands: This story appeared in The Eagle's April 2023 print edition. You can find the digital version here.
Riley DeRubbo knows ball. The versatile junior guard on AU’s basketball team grew up outside of Pittsburgh, where her mother Jina has coached the Division III Washington & Jefferson women’s basketball program since before Riley was born.
Growing up surrounded by basketball, DeRubbo couldn’t resist developing a love for the game.
“I started playing basketball when I was really young,” she said. “I always thought my mom’s players were the coolest people ever, ‘cause I would watch them ... and I was like, ‘I wanna do that someday.’”
As DeRubbo grew older and her game steadily matured, her hoop dreams began to materialize. In a cruel twist of fate, however, she tore her ACL in her junior year of high school, causing her to miss five and a half months of playing the game she loves.
“Obviously that takes on a toll, more than just your body but your mental health as well,” she said. “I’m glad it happened ... It really fuels you to get going and work as hard as you can.”
Despite what could have been a career-ending injury, DeRubbo returned to form her senior season and amassed 1,000 career points, becoming the 10th player ever to achieve this feat for the Trinity Hillers women’s basketball team.
As Division I offers finally began to come in, DeRubbo’s decision came down to Fordham University or American. DeRubbo ultimately decided to take her talents to the Bronx and join the Fordham Rams.
After one season at Fordham with only five total minutes of playing time, DeRubbo entered the transfer portal and eventually landed at AU, the school she had initially declined.
“I just don’t think [Fordham] was the best fit for me,” she said. “And I wanted to be a little closer to home.”
DeRubbo received a more prominent role at AU than she had at Fordham — in her first season with the Eagles, she played in all 32 games, with AU’s season culminating in a March Madness tournament appearance for the first time since 2018. Though she was not yet the focal point of the team, DeRubbo was a Swiss Army knife that gave the Eagles whatever they needed in a moment’s notice off the bench.
In her junior year, DeRubbo oversaw an even bigger expansion of her role, from being a spark plug off the bench to the Eagles third leading scorer. However, this adjustment did not come without growing pains.
“I definitely realized it was going to be a challenge for me because it just wasn’t something that I had to do last year,” said DeRubbo. “It is very different, but I feel like my teammates do help me out a lot with that.”
Head Coach Tiffany Coll pointed to DeRubbo’s lifetime around basketball as the greatest indicator of her present and future successes.
“She grew up on the court,” Coll said. “She’s a coach’s daughter ... so she’s always had that extra edge about knowing how a coach thinks.”
Coll also emphasized how DeRubbo’s coachability meshes perfectly with her vibrant personality. “She’s very charismatic,” Coll said. “People like her and socially, people want to be around her. She’s bubbly and friendly and pretty popular. People just flock toward her.”
Coll entrusts DeRubbo to parlay her friendly, charismatic personality into a vocal leadership role going forward. “I’ve been telling her, ‘You’re really an influence to our team, especially our locker room, so everything you do needs to be exactly how we want our culture to be because you’re influencing it first hand,’” Coll said.
In January, DeRubbo’s breakout season came to an abrupt end due to injury. However, she impressed in her 14 games, starting all of them while averaging 8.4 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. The year was an overall difficult one for the Eagles, whose 9-22 season ended with a 29-point demolition at the hands of Holy Cross in the Patriot League quarter final.
Despite the persistent adversity this season, DeRubbo understands the valuable experience the team is getting.
“We have the talent. We really do. I think over time that experience will come,” she said. “The expectations are more about learning right now.”
With a hopefully healthy senior season on the horizon, DeRubbo is optimistic about what she and her teammates can accomplish.
“We do see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s coming,” she said.