COLUMBUS Ask Toledo Libbey coach Leroy Bates what makes William Buford so special and his answer couldn t be simpler.
"He makes the players around him better," Bates said.
That s an obvious reason why Buford is the 2008 Associated Press Mr. Basketball award winner.
The 6-foot-5 Buford is a blend of muscle and flash. He can drive the lane and dunk, shoot from the perimeter or contest a rebound among the trees inside.
Asked what basketball player he looked up to as a young kid, the Libbey senior said, "Oh, it was Michael Jordan. He could do everything. He could pass, play defense, shoot, rebound he was an all-around player."
Such is the case with the Cowboys shooting star. He averaged 22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists a game during the regular season while collecting his third consecutive Toledo City League player of the year award. He shot 62 percent from the field, 46 percent on 3-pointers and 77 percent at the line.
No wonder Ohio State coach Thad Matta, who successfully recruited Buford, is a big fan.
"William is a very gifted offensive player, can score in a variety of ways, can shoot the ball, can handle the ball, drives it and has a step-back (shot)," Matta said. "It s good because of his size. He s 6-5, long, just really has a great scorer s mind. He s very productive."
Lexington s fans found out just how productive he is. Heading into the regional championship game on Sunday, the Minutemen supporters in the stands chanted, "We want Bu-ford!"
Well, they got him.
Despite carrying foul trouble for much of the game, and fouling out with almost 3 minutes left, Buford left his mark. The game hinged on a 12-0 Libbey run in the third quarter with Buford supplying eight of the points, including a breathtaking dunk while being fouled.
"We threw an alley-oop to him and a kid pushed him in the back and his hand must have been almost to the middle part of the backboard," Bates said. "He came down and dunked it with one hand. This was while he was going full speed."
The coach compared it to Orlando center Dwight Howard s "Superman" dunk he donned a cape moments earlier during the NBA slam-dunk competition at the All-Star game.
That game got the Cowboys (23-2) into the state tournament, with Buford getting 15 points, 12 rebounds and six assists despite sitting out large chunks of the game. Libbey opens the 86th tournament on Thursday morning at Value City Arena against unbeaten St. Paris Graham (26-0).
"It s really exciting," Buford said. "It s a big accomplishment for us going down to the states."
Libbey will be going for its first state title in its sixth appearance.
Buford isn t all about highlight-reel stuffs. He s a hard worker, on and off the court. He carries a 3.2 grade-point average and is ready to compete for playing time with the Buckeyes right away.
His mother and father, who work in a factory, keep him in line, as does his 20-year-old brother, Ryan. Asked how he got along with his 15-year-old sister, Simone, Buford laughed and said, "She s my heart."
In his spare time, like most kids, he likes to hang around with his friends and play video games.
Buford is one of the most respected kids in the school, Bates said.
"He s not a loud, boisterous kind of person. You don t see him out in the halls doing all that kind of nonsense," he said. "He s always friendly toward everybody, quiet, moving on to his classes. Then when somebody wants to talk to him, he s very accessible and joking. He s just a well-rounded individual."
Buford narrowly won the award, a plaque in the shape of Ohio, over future Ohio State teammate B.J. Mullens, a 7-1 center out of Canal Winchester. Other candidates included 6-9 University of Cincinnati recruit Yancy Gates of Withrow, 7-0 Kenny Frease of Massillon Perry and 5-9 point guard Anthony Hitchens of Chillicothe.
Past winners of the award include former Toledo Macomber, Ohio State and NBA star Jimmy Jackson and three-time winner LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers.