MORGANTOWN — Back in the 1950s the great singer from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, Perry Como, caught the spirit of what Christmas is when he sang:
Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays
Cause no matter how far away you roam
When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze
For the holidays, you can’t beat home, sweet home.
It is a time for family and friends, a fireplace and children smiling and laughing, a time to think of what really is important in life and how you are supposed to live it.
For some, though, it can’t work that way, and one such person is Alex Ruoff, the former West Virginia University basketball star who is spending his Christmas away from home for the third-straight year, playing for Dominion Bilbao Basket in Spain’s ACB league.
“It’s not easy. I miss the family,” Ruoff admitted in a call from Barcelona after his team had just been defeated by one of Europe’s top teams. “Everyone’s family is getting together, but from a religious standpoint it allows me to focus on what Christmas is really about.
“So, it’s OK. It’s part of the job at this point. I don’t get too down. With technology and Skyping it’s not as bad as one may think.”
Indeed, you may be an ocean apart, but you can still go face to face with the family on Christmas day and feel a part of what the holiday is all about.
“You just kind of make the most of it. Last year we played on the 26th, this year on the 27th. We have Christmas morning off but we have practice at night,” said Ruoff, a mainstay on John Beilein’s finest teams at WVU and a transitionary player the first two years Bob Huggins took over.
“I got the tree. I did some decorations. I have a friend visiting who I’m doing Christmas with. There is also my other American teammate (Cleven Hennah of Wichita State) and his family, so we will do the Christmas brunch.”
Ruoff has spent seven years now playing overseas. Until three years ago, he would go home for Christmas, but that was when he was brought up to Europe’s top league, playing for two years in Goettingen, Germany, and now in Bilbao, Spain.
Bilbao is a city of about 350,000 people with a metropolitan area that reaches a population of a million. It is in the northernmost part of the country and is unique in that it is a basque region. You are probably a little bit more familiar with it than you may think as it was featured briefly in the beginning of the 1999 James Bond movie “The World Is Not Enough.”
It has been tough being in Bilbao after Germany.
“There wasn’t a language problem in Germany,” he said. “I picked up a little German but everyone under 50 years old speaks English, so I really didn’t have to. Spain has been tougher. No one in Spain speaks English and I’m in the part of Spain that doesn’t speak Spanish.”
The basque language is quite different.
“It’s considered the second-toughest language to learn,” Ruoff said. “The little background I have in Spanish doesn’t allow me to understand anything they are saying.”
Still his experience has been fulfilling.
“I’m a history major. I love seeing the world. I have that touristy buzz,” he said. “Every day I get I try to see something new. I want to see as much as I can during this adventure. I feel I’ve got four or five more good years left.”
For example, this year he plans to spend New Year’s Eve in Madrid.
“Those are experiences not everyone gets to have,” he said.
And a team is a team, no matter the language or the surrounding. It becomes his support system.
“We spend a lot of time together with our teammates,” Ruoff explained. “We have two games a week and never have a day off. When we do it’s usually a travel day so you are with the team then, too. We go out together. We rely on each other. We’re all in the same boat.”
And his world is not as limited as it may seem.
“When it comes to a support system, technology is amazing and I can talk to anybody I want whenever I want to,” he said.
But still, it’s Christmas and he would rather be home.
“I think my favorite Christmas was four years ago, the last time I came home. My grandmother was still alive then and I got to be with the family,” he said.
Beats a 3 at the buzzer to win a game anytime.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.