WASHINGTON -- Jeff Ruland was bitter just over a year ago when told he could no longer play basketball at Iona. Now, he can smile about it.
After playing last season in Barcelona, Spain, Ruland signed a multi-year contract Tuesday with the Washington Bullets.
The 6-foot-10, 245-pound center and forward was ruled ineligible for his senior year at Iona after signing with an agent following his junior season. The season in Spain was with the full approval of the Bullets' management.
'I'm smiling now, but a year ago, I wasn't,' Ruland said Tuesday. 'I think the NCAA rules keeping athletes from hiring an attorney are stupid.
'A 20 or 21-year-old athlete has to talk with an NBA owner or attorney and make a sensible decision without the advice of an attorney. That's absurd. I was with a reputable agent (International Management Inc.) and just trying to decide what was best for my future.
'All of a sudden, there's no decision to make. I can't play college basketball because I hired a representative. Those rules have to be changed.'
Ruland's attorney and longtime friend, Kevin Plunkett, agreed.
'I've been close to Jeff for quite a while and I know how tough some decisions were for him,' Plunkett said. 'He has had solid backing from his mother and his wife (Maureen), so that's an advantage.
'But what of a youngster who comes from a different background, one who has no one to rely on to help with a decision of that kind? Fortunately, the coaches aren't deserting the players completely and are doing all they can. I just don't think the NCAA is acting in the best interests of the youngsters.'
Ruland came to the Bullets from the Golden State Warriors during last year's NBA draft. The Warriors were offered the negotiating rights to guard Larry Wright if they would pick Ruland in the second round.
Ruland was available and the Warriors took him, immediately trading him to the Bullets. Wright signed with the Detroit Pistons and to complete the deal, the Warriors receive the Bullets' second-round pick this year.
'I think it was a brilliant move,' Shue said. 'Jeff profited from the year in Spain and we got a better center than we could have drafted last year or this year.'
Ruland, who admits missing playing his senior year at Iona, would have preferred being with the Bullets last season, providing everything had worked out.
'If I could have gotten enough playing time to improve, it would have been nice to be in the NBA,' said Ruland, who will play for the Bullets' entry in the D.C. Summer League. 'But financially, it was better for me in Spain -- plus the Bullets had several big men who would have been ahead of me last year.
'I think I learned more playing in Spain than I would if I had signed with the Bullets and spent a lot of time on the bench last season,' Ruland said. 'The caliber of play in Spain wasn't the NBA -- the top five teams would be good college teams in the U.S. -- but I was able to work on some skills I need to improve.'
The retirement of veteran center Wes Unseld opened a space on the roster for Ruland. Washington has veterans Elvin Hayes and Mitch Kupchak plus second-year man Rickey Mahorn in addition to Ruland.
Hayes, 34, has said he wouldn't mind being traded. He is nearing the end of his career, if the end in a Bullets uniform hasn't already arrived. Kupchak, Mahorn and Ruland can play center or big forward, a possibility Shue likes.
'I don't have anything firm in mind on Elvin,' Shue said. 'I just want to consider the overall team and what's best.
'I like the idea of the flexibility of having three players who can play two positions. I wouldn't even object to playing two of them at the same time.'
At Iona, Ruland set a career scoring record with 1,855 points. In his junior year, the Gaels went 29-5, losing to Georgetown in the NCAA East Regional.