Quiet riot: Buford playing big for No. 1 BucksWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Many of today’s up-and-coming basketball players display a swagger and arrogance with their talent and athletic prowess. Players can be seen pounding their chests, flexing, roaring after big dunks and frequently jawing at the opposition.
Ohio State University junior guard and Toledo native William Buford bucks that trend. On Jan. 15, the No. 2 Buckeyes were at home in a nail-biter, striving to stay unbeaten against fearless Penn State. With under three minutes to play and Ohio State trailing 61-60, a defensive lapse by the Nittany Lions left Buford wide open at the top of the three-point line. The 6-foot, 5-inch African Studies major from Toledo Libbey High School calmly caught the pass, fluidly knocked down the trey to give the lead back to his team and quietly jogged backwards to the other end of the floor as 18,809 fans in Value City Arena went nuts. No chest-pounding. No flexing. No self-absorbed celebrating. Just a trigger of a shot and a cold, focused stare.
Buford’s talent and demeanor are big reasons why OSU held on for that 69-66 win against Penn State and are the No. 1 team in the country at 19-0.
“My family and my parents keep me grounded,” Buford said in a phone interview with Toledo Free Press. “I owe them all the respect for that. They’ve always been on me [saying], ‘Don’t ever get too bigheaded,’ same as my coaches and my teammates. They all kept me humble.”
While the soft-spoken Buford is doesn’t say much, his multifaceted game on the basketball court has spoken volumes since his high school days with the Cowboys. Buford was a four-year starter at Libbey, where he earned three consecutive Toledo City League Player of the Year honors and was named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball, the Division II Co-Player of the Year as a senior in 2008, and McDonald’s, Parade and Jordan Brand All-American honors. One of the highest-ranked players in the 2008 class for his smooth shooting stroke and upside, Buford committed to Ohio State in October of his junior year, deciding to join the ranks of Toledo greats Kelvin Ransey, Dennis Hopson and Jim Jackson, who all elected to play for the Buckeyes.
“I knew it was a great basketball program,” Buford said. “It was close to home. I figured it was best for me and my family, and I loved the organization. I’ve been watching Ohio State since I was a little kid. It was just an honor for them to even want to recruit me, so that’s why I came.”
Buford wasted no time in showing everyone why he was one of the top-ranked players in his high school class, tying for a game-high 13 points on 50 percent shooting from the field in his first game at Ohio State. He went on to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2009 after averaging 11.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists for the 22-11 Buckeyes. In his sophomore season, Buford’s averages increased to 14.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, which earned him third-team All-Big Ten honors as Ohio State finished with a 29-8 record and made it to the Sweet 16, where it fell 76-73 to Tennessee.
“The four starters that were there had a sour taste in their mouth after that last game,” Buford said of the Sweet 16 loss. “You’ve just got to value every possession. That’s the main thing. Value every possession and play hard as long as you’re out there.”
Buford and his teammates took that loss to heart and have been playing with a chip on their collective shoulder this season, evident from the start as the Buckeyes took down then-No. 10-ranked Florida 93-75 on the road in their second game of the 2010-11 campaign. He is one of four Ohio State starters averaging double figures in scoring, the others being sensational freshman forward Jared Sullinger (17.4 ppg), senior guard/forward David Lighty (13 ppg) and senior guard Jon Diebler (11.5 ppg).
“You just can’t stop or guard one person on this team,” Buford said. “It’s going to be hard to stop one person, but teams are going to give us their best shot every game. We know that, so we’ve just got to come out and play hard.”
Buford has done just that this year, as the Buckeyes’ second-leading scorer at 13.7 points per game to go with his 4.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists per contest. He has also bulked up from 182 to 205 pounds since his freshman season, allowing him to become a more well-rounded player this year as he is shooting a career-best 45.8 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from three-point range.
“It was a good transition,” Buford said. “I’ve been picking up weight. Our strength and conditioning coach has been working with us real hard. In high school, everybody was like the same strength and you can bump people off, but when I got stronger I was able to take contact more.”
Another big reason for Buford’s personal success and the team’s success is Ohio State head coach Thad Matta, whom Buford credits for being able to get the best out of his players and compete at a high level.
“He’s just such a great guy,” Buford said. “I love his style of play. It’s just everything about him. He gets the best out of you every day in practice.”
Buford’s play has not gone unnoticed by his Toledo basketball brethren in the aforementioned Ransey, Hopson and Jackson, whom he says have told him to stay hungry, focused, not lose sight of what he’s doing and continue to get better each day. Buford recently met Ransey, a Macomber graduate who began this season as the Buckeyes’ fourth all-time leading scorer with 1,934 career points, for the first time at a captain’s dinner.
“It was nice,” Buford said. “I used to hear about [Ransey] a lot back in my hometown. When I met him, it was real exciting. He’s one of the greatest players and top scorers to ever come out of Ohio State.”
Those former Toledo and Ohio State stars are just the few of many in the basketball world who have been keeping an eye on No. 44. An old adage is to watch out for the quiet ones. That’s fitting, because the message of Buford’s game says just that: Watch out.