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COLUMBUS - Looking out into a friendly sea of scarlet and gray that packed the Great Hall at the Masonic west of downtown Toledo, Thad Matta stepped to the podium two years ago and recalled the array of basketball talent the Glass City had delivered to Ohio State.
Matta told the crowd on "Meet the Buckeyes" night that the rich Toledo basketball pipeline had sent former OSU coach Gary Williams a player named Jim Jackson and sent Williams' predecessor Eldon Miller a player named Dennis Hopson and before him Miller got a player named Kelvin Ransey.
Matta feigned irritation as he informed the crowd how those players had gone on to phenomenal careers with the Buckeyes, and each had left Ohio State holding a prominent place in the OSU record book. And along the way, they all had made their coach look very, very good.
"What are you going to do for me," Matta asked the crowd with an ornery grin.
The house packed with Buckeyes' fans roared in laughter. Only Matta wasn't kidding.
What he had in mind was a brilliant young scorer at Libbey named William Buford, only NCAA regulations prevented Matta from mentioning Buford by name. Buford later committed to the Buckeyes.
"We had William on our radar screen for a long time," Matta said yesterday as Buford, a freshman with the Buckeyes, posed in his Ohio State uniform for the first time on media day.
"We view Toledo like we do Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Youngstown - it's a great basketball metropolis. Getting him was obviously a great bonus for us."
The Toledo stars who have played for the Buckeyes before Buford have left a significant legacy.
Jackson starred at Macomber and led the Macmen to a state championship in 1989 before starting as a freshman for the Buckeyes. He was a two-time All-American at Ohio State, ranks sixth on the all-time scoring list for the Buckeyes despite playing just three years, and was the fourth overall pick in the 1992 NBA draft.
Hopson starred at Bowsher, and went on to become the Buckeyes' all-time leading scorer. Hopson was the third overall selection in the 1987 NBA draft.
Ransey was a standout at Macomber who became a four-year starter at Ohio State, an All-American as a senior, and is the Buckeyes' fourth-leading career scorer. Ransey was the fourth overall pick in the 1980 NBA draft.
Buford comes to Ohio State heavily decorated. He was Ohio's Mr. Basketball last season, and a three-time Toledo City League player of the year. He led Libbey to a runner-up finish in the Division II state tournament as a senior, scoring 29 points in the title game.
"William is a long, athletic wing who can score in a variety of ways," Matta said. "He shoots the ball well from outside, drives and finishes around the basket, and gets to the foul line."
Matta does not permit his freshman players to speak with the media until after the first game, but Ohio State sophomore Jon Diebler recalled the challenges he faced at this time last year, and talked about how Buford was going through much the same.
"It's a big adjustment, because Will's just like every other guy here since he was the main scorer in high school, and everything on offense went through him. Now he becomes part of a team loaded with skilled scorers," Diebler said.
"Once he adjusts to the college game at this level, he'll be fine."
Matta said Buford told him after the Buckeyes' first 30-minute workout that it had been the hardest session Buford had been a part of.
"I told him we hadn't done anything yet, but all the young guys struggle with the intensity of the work, and the skill, the size and strength of the other players. They're used to the way it was since sixth grade, where they got the ball and the sea just parted and they went to the basket. It's not like that now, and all the new guys have to handle that. The quicker they do, the better we'll be."
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