Buckeyes' Buford tries to forget his last miss
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)
Yet it's the one that he didn't make that haunts him and keeps him staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night.
He's got a chance at surpassing Jerry Lucas, Jim Jackson and Dennis Hopson to become the all-time leading scorer for the Buckeyes. Asked if he feels good about a career that has resulted in 1,424 points and an average team record of 28-7, his smile fades.
''Yes, except my last game,'' he said.
Top-ranked and top-seeded Ohio State, which won its first 24 games and came in 34-2, lost to Kentucky 62-60 last March 25 at the NCAA's East Regional semifinal in Newark, N.J. Buford, the Buckeyes' best all-around offensive performer, made just 2 of 16 shots from the field.
The 6-foot-6 swingman also had a decent look at a 3 from the left corner in the final seconds that meant the difference between victory and defeat. But like so many others that night, it was off the mark.
With a new season, his final one, in front of him, Buford - the only player on Ohio State's roster with more than one year in a Buckeyes uniform - is trying to inspire his teammates even as he attempts to recover from the darkness of that disappointment.
''I got over it a little over the summer,'' he said softly. ''It's still with me, but I just don't worry about it too much now.''
Make no mistake: The Buckeyes are loaded. But in order to take the next step, beyond winning Big Ten titles and locking up high rankings, they need their senior citizen to shove that night at the Prudential Center out of Buford's psyche.
''It was an all day, every day thing,'' he said of the weeks after Ohio State's crushing defeat. ''I knew I was better than the way I played. I could have done other things to help the team out beside shooting to try to get myself out of a slump.''
Now it's the one he missed which motivates him.
''The shots that he missed in that game were shots that I've seen him make for three years,'' said Thad Matta, a sterling 190-57 with seven straight 20-win seasons and a total of seven Big Ten championships and tournament titles with the Buckeyes. ''I don't think anybody wanted William to make a shot more than I did at that particular juncture, just to get him going. Hopefully that helped him go into this summer and prove what he wants to be and drive him a little bit more.''
He'll have plenty of help. Back is last year's premier big man in the nation, 6-9 Jared Sullinger, who averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds while earning All-America status. So point guard Aaron Craft, a pest on defense and the triggerman on offense for a team that won by an average of 18 points a game. Another third freshman a year ago, Deshaun Thomas, will pump up shots from everywhere but surprised his teammates with his defense and gritty play as a rookie.
Sullinger has dropped 15 pounds - although it looks like twice that much - since electing to stay at Ohio State instead of being an NBA lottery pick. He says he can now drift outside to shoot jumpers instead of only using his still-prodigious backside as leverage inside.
''Teams are going to be so sold on doubling me in the post,'' he said with a laugh. ''It's going to be like, `How do you double him when he's doing the pick and pop?' It's going to mess up some people's defensive strategies.''
Craft is a sticky defender and fearless floor leader who some teams left unguarded because the first-year player was so unselfish. No more.
''There were a lot of times I noticed people were playing off me and weren't even respecting (my shot). I wasn't going to shoot, and I didn't. That just adds another half defender on everyone else around me,'' he said. ''Being able to knock down open shots is going to make us a better basketball team.''
Jordan Sibert and Lenzelle Smith Jr. are also back for their sophomore season after seeing sparse action on a team that featured departed seniors Jon Diebler (all-time school and Big Ten leader in 3-pointers made with 374), brawny center Dallas Lauderdale (one of the top three shot-blockers ever at Ohio State) and versatile David Lighty (whose 129 wins as a Buckeye is a record).
Evan Ravenel, a 6-8 transfer from Boston College, adds depth in the front court this year.
Of course, Matta's M.O. is that he's a terrific recruiter - and he held up his end of the bargain. Incoming McDonald's All-Americans Shannon Scott (the son of former North Carolina and NBA star Charlie Scott) and 6-11 Amir Williams (who could pair with Sullinger to allow the Buckeyes to go big) are the top prizes. Another Michigan product, 6-8 Trey McDonald, could be a factor.
Sullinger learned a lot a year ago about high expectations.
''No. 1 means nothing; No. 1 means absolutely nothing. You just have to play,'' he said. ''The further you go, the fewer teams there are, the harder it gets. There's no easy routes.''
Now if the Buckeyes can just erase Buford's memory of that night in New Jersey.
''I'm glad I could learn from that situation so it can never happen again,'' he said. ''It will make me a better player and a better person.''
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