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Published: Tuesday, 3/23/2010

Buckeyes' Buford broadens skill set

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

COLUMBUS - William Buford came to Ohio State a year and a half ago as a scorer - a guy who could take the basketball and churn through Hades and high water to get to the rim. His highlight film was composed of 32 clips of Buford's significant offensive prowess.

The William Buford that goes to St. Louis this week with the rest of the Buckeyes to play in the NCAA tournament regional - two games away from the Final Four - isn't that guy any longer.

Buford's line in the box score these days is a string of digits that document how he has broadened his game, and become a much more valuable player for the Buckeyes. Ohio State coach Thad Matta has been more than a casual observer of this metamorphosis.

Matta remembers a wide-eyed Buford playing in Ohio State's cavernous Schottenstein Center last season as a freshman, his motor red-lining on just energy and enthusiasm.

"Last year, there's 19,000 in the Schott, and you could stop the game, walk out and say what's the score and how much time is left, and he'd be like, "I have no idea, but I'm having the time of my life out here. He was playing," Matta said.

Now, Buford posts lines like this from the NCAA first-round win over UC Santa Barbara last weekend: 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting, 2-of-2 from the line, seven rebounds, two assists, one blocked shot, 39 minutes played. He had an off first half against Georgia Tech in Sunday's second-round win, but came back to finish with nine points on 4-of-9 shooting, eight rebounds, three assists, and a steal in 40 minutes played.

Matta, who takes his 29-7 Buckeyes up against Tennessee in the Midwest Regional semifinal game Friday night, said Buford was always very successful at playing instinctively, but has grown into a thinking man's player.

"I think the biggest growth that I've seen in William is just the mental aspect of the game," Matta said. "And I say that from the standpoint that he takes a lot more pride now in the minute details of the game of basketball."

Buford, who is second on the team behind Big Ten player of the year Evan Turner in scoring (14.4 per game) and rebounding (5.7 per game), has taken more pride in his 113 assists - again, second only to Turner.

"That's part of growing up as a basketball player," Buford said after the win over Santa Barbara. "Scoring is important, but this team has a lot of guys who can hit shots. I still need to do that, but being a complete player is a lot more than just points. I want to contribute in every area."

Matta said that although Buford admitted when he showed up at Ohio State that defensive work was not part of his resume, that is the area where the former Libbey star and three-time City League player of the year has made the most improvement.

"Now he's got a great understanding of defending," Matta said. "He wants the challenge of guarding the other team's best player. He understands the help. He understands the time, the score, and situation offensively. I think he has a better feel for the actions that we're running, and his timing and his cutting is a lot better."

While adding those elements, Buford has retained and enhanced his scoring prowess. In a crucial win at Purdue this season, while the Boilermakers were somewhat preoccupied with Turner, Buford burned them for 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Purdue coach Matt Painter cited Buford's ability to make contested shots, and get locked in a scoring zone.

"Buford made a couple shots and it kind of got him going," Painter said. "I've got a lot of respect for him. He always makes tough shots."

Buford played every minute of Ohio State's first-round win over Michigan in the recent Big Ten tournament, and then played every minute of regulation and both overtimes against Illinois, and 39 of the 40 minutes in the championship game over Minnesota. He continued that iron man approach by playing 79 of 80 minutes over the weekend in the NCAA tournament.

"I really don't feel tired - I'm just out there playing and not worrying about it," Buford said. "We're on a mission, trying to win that next game, and I just want to do everything I can to help us move on. The minutes don't bother me. You want to be out there on the floor doing everything you can."

Matta expects that to be a lot - both this weekend in the NCAA regional, and in the coming years.

"I think with William, No. 1, his ceiling is very high," Matta said. "I think he's going to go down as one of the all-time greats in Ohio State history. He's on pace to do that. I think he's going to play basketball for a long time."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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