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COLUMBUS — There has been one big change for the Ohio State Buckeyes basketball team since last season — the departure of national player of the year Evan Turner for the NBA.
It's been tough, but the Buckeyes have adjusted, according to junior William Buford, who is now in a lead scoring role after playing a very sound second fiddle to Turner last season as Ohio State advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament and posted a 29-8 record.
Buford started all 37 of those games and with his 14.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game averages he is the leading scorer and rebounder among the six returning players for the Buckeyes.
“Evan did a lot for this team, and it's still in the back of my mind that Evan's gone, but it's not something that puts a lot of pressure on me,” Buford said Thursday as the Buckeyes prepared for the start of practice today.
“I don't think it's a problem — I'll just do what I have to do. In my role, I want to be more of a leader, and scoring is not a problem.”
Buford had been essentially Option 1 on every team he played on, from fifth grade through his years at Libbey High School. When he arrived at Ohio State, the whole basketball dynamic changed for Buford, who was suddenly a role player.
He added scoring, rebounding, and a slash-to-the-basket talent to the Buckeyes and earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors two seasons ago. Last year, Buford was a third-team All-Big Ten selection as Turner led Ohio State to the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships.
According to Ohio State coach Thad Matta, Buford started to assume a more prominent position with the Buckeyes right after Turner left, and Matta sees that role suiting the former three-time City League player of the year.
“What I've seen from William is that he has a totally different demeanor about him,” Matta said. “He's matured, and he has a greater understanding of what we are doing and what we need him to do. William took the off-season and made the most of it.”
Buford, who was Ohio's Mr. Basketball following his senior season when he led Libbey to a runner-up finish in the Division II state tournament, said he tried to upgrade his skills in a number of different areas during workouts over the summer.
“I want to be a more all-around player,” Buford said. “I've worked a lot on my ball-handling, my post moves, and really focused more on defense. Now I want to go out and guard the best scorer on the opposite team.”
Buford, who averaged 23 points and 11 rebounds per game for the Cowboys as a senior, needs just 96 points to reach 1,000 for his OSU career. Although he has played essentially a shooting guard position for the Buckeyes in the past, Buford is one of nearly a half dozen players who could see time at the point guard position over the next six weeks as the Buckeyes look to fill Turner's on-court position.
Matta is working with an unusual mix of experience and inexperience as seniors Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale, and David Lighty join Buford in a playing rotation that will undoubtedly include several players from the ultra-talented six-member freshman class of which Liberty Benton grad Aaron Craft is a member.
Buford said he expects the Buckeyes to settle into their roles well before they play an exhibition game against Walsh on Nov. 7 in advance of opening the season at home against North Carolina A&T on Dec. 1.
“I don't think it will be too big of an adjustment for us,” Buford said. “We've been together since the beginning of the summer, and we've got a lot of guys who bring a lot to the table.”
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.