Lobo basketball legend Ruben Douglas dies at age 44

Apr. 26—Ruben Douglas, a University of New Mexico basketball legend and 2003 NCAA scoring champion, died April 12 in Costa Rica, the Journal has confirmed.

Douglas, born in Altadena, Calif., played three seasons for the Lobos from 2000-2003. He was 44.

"He was a jokester. Of course he was all business on the court, but he had his fun times. Everybody knew him as a funny guy. And he was just a gifted player. He worked so much on his craft and that got him to where he was at." said his older brother, Ramon Douglas.

Ramon told the Journal in a telephone interview Friday that Ruben had been living both in Costa Rica and Arizona and had just recently traveled back to Costa Rica. While there, he became sick and died of an unknown infection — one the family is still not entirely sure about.

The family has since flown to Costa Rica to collect Douglas' belongings and has brought his body back to the United States. Services related to his passing have not yet been scheduled.

"It's all been so sudden — just moving so quickly," Ramon Douglas said, adding that his brother was in good health and this took the family by surprise.

"We'll definitely get some sort of memorial service set up, but right now, it's just been all so fast."

Douglas has two children in Arizona, one older brother and his mother in California and another older brother in the Washington D.C. area. His father, Rogelio Douglas, passed away five years ago.

Reports of his passing first came out Friday morning in a report from Fortitudo Bologna, an Italian professional basketball team he used to play for.

The Italian team posted a story on its website Friday with the translated headline: "A phone call that freezes our blood. No, Ruben, no..." In it, again translated from Italian via an online translator service, it states, "a sudden health problem was fatal to him a few days ago in Costa Rica."

After wrapping up a stellar high school career at Bellarmine-Jefferson High School in Burbank, California, Douglas was a part of one of the top recruiting classes in the nation in 1998 for the University of Arizona. The class included Michael Wright, Richard Jefferson and Luke Walton.

After playing his freshman season at Arizona, Douglas transferred to UNM to play for Fran Fraschilla and the Lobos for two seasons and his third season was under first-year head coach Ritchie McKay. In his senior season, 2002-03, Douglas averaged 28.0 points per game, which led the nation in scoring.

"He was a fabulous kid to coach and very, very well liked by all of his coaches and teammates and loved being a Lobo," McKay told the Journal on Friday evening. "He obviously came (to UNM) from a historic program and legendary coach (Lute Olson) in Arizona, but then he was he was all in from day one at New Mexico. ...

"I just loved Ruben. My heart breaks for his family. He was a young man that added life — whenever you were around him. He had a gigantic smile and personality."

McKay added that even as a first-year coach in the 2002-03 season, there was never any pushback from the high-scoring all-league senior guard.

"He bought in," McKay said. "The good thing about Ruben is he wanted to win the game. Often times, when you get close to something like leading the nation in scoring and you're getting attention for that, you might get a little individualistic. But Ru would always take losing hard. He allowed me to coach him and at least establish some culture there that helped us get to that (NCAA Tournament team) in the third year."

While his older brothers also played basketball, and basketball is what brought his father, Rogelio, to the United States from Panama, it was never to the level of Ruben.

Ramon Douglas let out a little laugh when asked what it was like watching his brother play basketball.

"He was unstoppable. He just knew how to put the ball in the basket," Ramon Douglas said. "He was a good shooter. Granted I wish maybe the teams he was on were a little better so they could progress and he got a little more notice for what he was doing, but he was just unstoppable. He was putting up those Kobe-type numbers for a minute."

Ruben Douglas was a three-time All-Mountain West selection and the league's Player of the Year in 2003 and last month was named to the league's 25th anniversary team.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Ruben's family, friends and former teammates," UNM Director of Athletics Eddie Nuñez said in a release. "He was a tremendous Lobo and was recently honored with his inclusion on the Mountain West's 25th Season Team. Ruben will be missed."

The 6-foot-5 shooting guard scored 1,782 points in his three season at UNM, which ranks No. 6 in program history.

After his UNM career, Douglas starred for nearly a decade at the highest levels in European basketball.

He helped lead Fortitudo Bologna to an Italian championship and was the EuroCup Finals MVP in 2006, leading Dynamo Moscow (Russia) to a EuroCup championship.