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Originally published Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 8:46 PM

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Oregon State women are rebuilding basketball program from the ground up

After coach LaVonda Wagner was fired last year, the Oregon State women's basketball team had to start over. The Beavers are off to a 7-6 start this season, led by new coach Scott Rueck and guard Sage Indendi, who had teamed up to lead George Fox to a Division III national championship two years ago.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Thursday

UW @ Oregon State, 7 p.m.

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CORVALLIS, Ore. — The story — full of turmoil and confusion — is a tale Sage Indendi loves to share.

"I love talking about it because it's so weird still," said the Oregon State player. "I really thought I was done (playing), so I was trying to get used to that. But there was some little voice inside of me telling me to stay here."

Indendi, a 5-foot-9 guard, walked away from basketball after being the top rookie on George Fox's 2008-09 Division III national championship team. Under coach Scott Rueck, she averaged 12.8 points for George Fox, which is located in Newberg, Ore., about 25 miles southwest of Portland.

But something was missing.

"Basketball was kind of directing me in my life and I knew I wanted to have other areas that I was good at, too," Indendi said. "Find more about myself that I didn't know."

Indendi enrolled at Oregon State in pre-nursing and didn't pay any attention to hoops during the 2009-10 season — outside of five minutes of a men's basketball game and the Los Angeles Lakers' championship run. Indendi didn't even know about the negative story taking place on her own campus until she read the headlines of the school newspaper.

Then her mother told her that coach LaVonda Wagner had been fired on June 1 under allegations of verbal abuse and creating a controlling environment. Wagner was reportedly paid the final $1.2 million of her contract for being released "without cause" because the school didn't want to go to court.

Through Wagner's five-year tenure, 15 players transferred, including Talisa Rhea, who went to Seattle University, and Haiden Palmer, who left for Gonzaga.

Where many saw dysfunction, Indendi saw opportunity. Only it didn't call her.

Coincidentally, Rueck, her former coach at George Fox, was hired on June 30 and it took two weeks, several phone calls and a tryout with more than 50 other interested players to reunite the player and coach. Both admit you're not supposed to be able to make the jump from D-III to D-I, but circumstances made it possible.

When Rueck, a 1991 Oregon State graduate, was hired, he had only one player, forward El Sara Greer, who had played significant minutes under Wagner. Three recruits honored their commitments and two players from other OSU sports — Tami Brown (volleyball) and Courtney Wetzel (soccer) — helped round out the most unlikely 12-player roster.

No wonder after Rueck's season-opening 71-39 win over Long Beach State, he sent a text to former George Fox colleague Sherri Murrell (now the Portland State coach), joking that "1-29 sounds better than 0-30."

Picked to finish last in the Pac-10, Oregon State is 7-6 overall and 0-2 in the conference, hosting Washington (5-6, 0-2) on Thursday at Gill Coliseum.

"Scott, he's been doing this for so long that I feel like he breathes success," Indendi said.

The Beavers, who lost their first two conference games by a combined five points, defeated the Huskies in the opening round of the conference tournament last year.

"It's been a blur," said Rueck, who still needs to hire one assistant coach. "We lack in depth and size, so I was like, 'How are we going to do this?' "

The Hillsboro, Ore., native is hardly one to not have a plan, however. His 14 years stitching together rosters for George Fox translated well to OSU this year. He made seven postseason appearances at George Fox, finishing with a 288-88 overall record, and feels in time he can replicate the trend in Corvallis.

With the Beavers, Rueck has a gem in Greer, who leads the conference in blocked shots (5.2). A senior, she wasn't going to let the situation detract from her final year and became more of a locker room leader.

"Yes, we did have a rough time last year," Greer said. "But now we're turning a new page and starting fresh from the ground up."

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

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