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Published: Thursday, 2/28/2008

Blade boys player of the year: Libbey's Buford a 3-time winner

William Buford, right, of Libbey High School is the All-Blade boys player of the year. William Buford, right, of Libbey High School is the All-Blade boys player of the year.
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As William Buford approached the front door of The Blade building last Sunday afternoon along with William Buford Sr., father and son were turned away and directed to a rear entrance.

The superbly talented Libbey basketball player, who has seemed unstoppable throughout his four-year career, was arriving for his third Blade player of the year photo session.

But he had finally met his match.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama - once a pretty fair high school basketball player himself - was set to visit The Blade within a short time, and the customarily tight security plan allowed for no exceptions.

The man, who a year from now may be addressed as Mr. President, thus outranked the younger man, who within a few weeks may be called Ohio's Mr. Basketball.

Buford is hoping there are no such barriers as he leads Libbey in its quest to become the City League's fourth boys state championship team.

For Buford - the first three-time Blade player of the year - a state title is all that remains to be accomplished in a career that has elevated him to status as one of Toledo's all-time best.

"My teammates and I, that's all we've been thinking about," Buford said. "We're real greedy wanting to win a state championship. We've just got to stay focused, keep our heads on right, and listen to our coach."

Libbey coach Leroy Bates will soon deal with life after Buford, but he has certainly enjoyed the ride.

"William is just smooth," Bates said. "He's a proficient scorer, and it's not likes he's taking 20 shots a game."

But Bates has been more impressed by another attribute.

"It goes back to his loyalty," Bates said, "and he's actually loyal to a fault. He really wants everybody on this team to get that next opportunity to play in college just like he's got. Whatever it takes to make that happen, he's willing to do it to help his teammates, because he knows he can shine at any point."

Along with the 1,919 career points entering last night's district semifinal and the victories, Bates will lament losing Buford's intangibles.

"What I'm going to miss the most after he's gone is his work ethic and the example he's set for the rest of the kids," the coach said. "In these four years I don't think he's missed one practice.

"I'll also miss his quiet leadership. Sometimes, when I can't get a point across to the guys, I've asked William to talk to them because he gets so much respect. One time he asked me, 'Why do you want me to talk to them?' I told him, 'If they don't listen to you, you know they're not going to listen to me.'•"

Former Macomber, Ohio State and NBA player Jim Jackson set the standard, and he remains one of the best players in City League history.

Based on the individual accomplishments of his own sterling four-year career, however, Buford has at least earned a place in the discussion of Toledo's top five of all-time. For some, he may be No. 2.

"I want to be known as the best ever to come out of Toledo, so I'm going to keep on working hard and stay on top of my game," Buford said. "I never want to feel like I'm too good to work on my game.

"I feel my game has elevated a lot from freshman year on. I learned more and more every year from AAU and brought it back to use it in my game. I just keep on trying to soak in the game like a sponge."

Last week Buford was selected to play in the nation's top two postseason all-star games - the 32nd annual McDonald's All-American game, this year set for Milwaukee, and the Jordan Brand Classic, scheduled for New York City's Madison Square Garden.

"That means a lot to me," Buford said of the All-American honors. "I just want to go out and represent Toledo in a real good way."

Jackson, in 1989, was the only other City League player to ever play in the McDonald's game, which began in 1977. The Jordan game is in its seventh year.

Just 24 senior players from around the United States were chosen for the McDonald's game, 21 for the Jordan contest. This is rarified air for prep players, and Buford is a rare talent. He is listed on an ESPN scouting report as the No. 3 shooting guard in the country.

The Libbey senior, who has signed to play at Ohio State, hopes these all-star games will simply be icing on the cake after a state title. To his credit he has taken unselfish measures to make that goal more attainable.

His 28.4 points-per-game scoring average from 2006-07 is down to 23.1 this season while his shooting percentages have risen. He has worked on becoming a better defensive player and, more importantly, worked on spreading the scoring wealth among his talented supporting cast.

Complemented by third-year senior starters Julius Wells, who has signed to play at Marist College, and Brad Sandridge, Buford is surrounded by teammates who would likely be top players on many other prep teams.

Fellow seniors Lance Jones, Brad Burton, Tony Brown and Rodney Everage make up one of the most potent top sevens a coach could ever ask for.

But make no mistake, William Buford is the center of attention, at least when Senator Obama isn't in the same town.

"I have never seen a kid shoot more consistently than William," said Ed Heintschel, the St. John's Jesuit coach for 29 seasons, "and we've had some real good shooters here. In all the times I've seen him play, I've never seen him have a bad shooting night."

Heintschel places Buford among the "top five or six players" he's seen in the 40 years since he played in the CL.

Scott coach Joe Suboticki spent much of his 33-year career outside of the Toledo. But, counting his prior CL stops at St. Francis and Waite, he's been in the league for 13 years. He has no doubt that Buford is No. 1 in that time.

"He's real smooth and he scores very easily," Suboticki said. "Even when he was a freshman, I remember looking at the scorebook and not realizing he had scored so many points. He's carried that throughout his career. Inside or outside, he makes things look easy."

What lies ahead for Buford is Ohio State and then, he hopes, the NBA.

"It's always been a dream for me to go to the NBA," Buford said. "But that's not really on my mind right now. I still have to worry about going to college and elevating my game there. Then I'll worry about the NBA.

"I watch [Ohio State's] games now because I like to see their style of game. I'm familiar with it and I think I can adjust pretty good to that and try to go out and win a national championship at Ohio State."

Contact Steve Junga at:

sjunga@theblade.com

or 419-724-6461



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