Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Comparing Buford with anyone tough

In a city where high school basketball is a passion bordering on a mania, it is almost sacrilege to mention anyone in the same breath with Jim Jackson.

Jackson made us re-assess all those who came before - and could we ever forget the mid-1970s with Truman Claytor, Terry Crosby, Donald Collins and Kelvin Ransey all in the same town, or the mid-'80s with Dennis Hopson, Todd Mitchell, and Melvin Newbern?

And since J.J.? Well, there's never been anyone close. It would be almost unfair to compare.

But we're really tempted.

The kid's name is William Buford. He is a 6-foot-5 junior at Libbey and if you have seen him play and think he's pretty good, then consider this from St. John's Jesuit coach Ed Heintschel:

"If William makes the same improvement in the next year that he has made in the last year, well, it's scary what we could be talking about," Heintschel said. "But, hey, one more year and then stopping him is Tom Izzo's problem, not mine."

Buford has already announced he is going to Ohio State. He made that commitment before school even started last fall and people who hadn't seen him play over the summer questioned if his jump shot was good enough.

Last night, as Buford scored 26 points in Libbey's 61-49 City League championship win over the Johnnies at Savage Hall - he scores 25-30 points virtually every game - he displayed, as he has all season, that his jumper is about as good as they come. He has some major hops and gets way above his defender, his catch-and-release from 3-point range is like the blink of an eye, and the entire motion is syrupy smooth.

So, what will the next year bring?

"The best," said Libbey coach Leroy Bates. "William was awful good last year and he's gotten better this year. But we haven't gotten the best out of him yet. We're aiming for good, better, best."

Heintschel, as always, had a plan last night. But he also had a problem. You've heard coaches talk about bad match-ups? St. John's has players as big as Buford, but not as skilled. Other Titans have some skills, but not the size. The Libbey star is the ultimate match-up problem.

He is also just a kid, which is nice to see.

Buford had trouble getting his City League title medallion over his head, but only because the chain wasn't very long, not because his head is too big.

He is humble, looks people in the eye, smiles effortlessly, and says yes sir and no sir. His parents, William Sr., and Arnetta, did this kid right.

Like any top player, he makes his plays in the flow of the game and makes his teammates better by getting everyone involved. He was as jacked up last night over a full-court, fast-break pass that 6-2 Brad Burton sky-walked into a dunk as he was over any of his three slams.

Can he get better? Absolutely. His attention wavers at times. He relies on jumping ability to get rebounds when better technique would make him unstoppable on the glass. He blocks shots, but doesn't always bear down defensively to deny those shots in the first place.

That isn't meant to be critical. He's a kid. And the things Buford does poorly he still does better than anybody else. And he will take that next step. The good ones who want to be great ones always do.

After the game, though, the only step he wanted to make was up the ladder to cut his piece of net. He was an excited kid with wide eyes, as wide as those watching him play.

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