The roster included Louisville’s Rus Smith, West Virginia leading scorer Eron Harris, former top-30 recruit Mike Gbinije (Syracuse) and Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year Kadeem Batts (Providence).
In walked Tate Unruh, ready to prove he belonged on the same court.
“Being a small-school guy, I was pumped to go to practice,” said Unruh, a former Branson High School star who’s heading into his senior season at Northern Colorado. “I had watched a lot of these guys on TV.”
After proving his worth at practice, Unruh and his East Coast All Star teammates flew over to Finland then to the host site of the Four Nations Cup tournament: Tallin, Estonia. Practice was one thing, but Unruh wanted to show he could produce in a game.
FOUR NATIONS CUP RECAPS
Three productive games later, Unruh was being peppered with questions from his new teammates.
“They were asking me like, ‘Why’d you go to Northern Colorado, where is that? What’s it like there? How were you recruited out of high school? What other schools were looking at you?” Unruh said. “It felt great to play at a high-level with those guys.”
Unruh averaged just over 10 points in three games as the ECAS went 2-1. His best effort came in a 93-75 win against Slovakia, when he scored 13 to go with four assists and went 4-for-8 from 3-point range, including draining two deep treys that broke the game open early on.
“I think I played really well,” Unruh said. “I went in motivated. It was some of the best basketball I’ve ever played. It gave me a ton of confidence."
East Coast went 2-1, beating Belarus in its opener and losing 88-79 to Estonia in its final game. Belarus won the four-team event on point differential.
“It was a great experience, I loved it, had a great time,” Unruh said. “They had a guy back out at the last minute, I got a call a few days before the team was going to fly out, and they said they needed an extra guard, preferably a shooter.
“It was different, too, because once you’re a senior you’re playing against guys your age or younger. We were going up against grown men. They might have been a little less explosive, but they had their own crafty ways of being successful.”
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Unruh was a 2009 McDonald’s All-American nominee for Branson. He ranks as the second-best career free throw shooter in state history (87.3 percent) and the fourth-best 3-point shooter (46 percent senior year). He holds the Branson record for single-game 3-pointers (nine), 3-pointers in a season (97), and career 3-pointers (236).
But coming into Northern Colorado, Unruh was admittedly undersized for Division I competition. He took a redshirt year, and his body developed.
Since his freshman year, Unruh said he’s grown about 3-4 inches and added 40 pounds. He’s listed now as a 6-foot-4, 175-pound guard.
“I needed that redshirt year so bad,” Unruh said. “Back then I wouldn’t admit it, I was wanting to play Division I, but when I got there it was so physical and I was just far behind everyone else.
“After a while, my body started to grow and I got a little more athletic and explosive.”
In 2012-13, Unruh started all 31 games for the Bears and was a second-team All-Big Sky Conference selection as he averaged 13.5 points per game and 4.3 rebounds, both career highs. He ranked 21st in the nation (.428) in 3-point percentage and set the Northern Colorado Division I single-season record for 3-pointers with 92.
His teammates included former Willard High School player Tim Huskisson and current Missouri State Bear Emmanuel Addo.
Once his career with Northern Colorado ends next spring, Unruh said he would like to play pro basketball.
“Absolutely,” he said. “One day, somewhere. Whether I can solidify myself in America in the D-League, or go overseas to play in Europe, Asia or wherever, I love the game.”
Unruh blogs about trip