As the final buzzer sounded, cementing a devastating loss to Tennessee in last year’s Sweet Sixteen, the No. 2-seeded Ohio State men’s basketball team somberly walked off the floor at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Mo.
The defeat left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Buckeyes. That low moment for the team might have been the motivation guard William Buford needed.
The disappointment has driven Buford to fuel his desire to elevate himself to the next level as a basketball player.
Owning such titles as Ohio’s Mr. Basketball in 2008, 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and 2010 Third Team All-Big Ten honoree, Buford’s ability on the court has rarely been questioned.
He has always been able to shoot the ball with consistency, averaging double digits in scoring during his OSU career.
“I have been scoring all my life, that’s just what I do, basically,” Buford said at media day on Oct. 14.
The 2010-11 version of OSU will feature a new-and-improved Buford.
Now in his third year, he is a veteran and has been thrust into uncharted waters as a young team looks to its top returning scorer for leadership.
Though he was content to play second fiddle during his first two years, Buford has embraced his newfound role as a leader.
“When I came back, I just had a different mindset,” Buford said. “Last year, we had a veteran team, so I really didn’t think too much. We had the best player in the country. I was just taking a backseat, basically. But this year, I am just trying to be more vocal and help the young guys.”
Buford’s change has not gone unnoticed. It took little time for the 6-foot-5-inch guard’s development to catch his coach’s eye.
“I think with Will, I have seen a side of him in the month that we’ve been together that is very exciting,” coach Thad Matta said. “From a leadership standpoint, from a work ethic standpoint, he is about as focused as I have ever seen him over an extended period of time.”
Aiding in Buford’s development was his selection to the USA Select Team this past summer. One of 20 college players picked for the team, Buford spent a week in Las Vegas in late July, honing his skills against some of America’s best.
“I think the USA basketball deal that he did this summer was pretty beneficial for him,” Matta said. “He got to see what the best is really like. He’s been coaching the young guys, putting his arm around them, getting them where they need to go and I think that’s been exciting for him.”
Along with furthering his own skills, Buford also hopes to share some of what he picked up from his U.S. teammates and NBA counterparts with his OSU teammates.
Matta is not the only one to notice Buford’s transformation. The quiet, pull-up shooter from two years ago has evolved into a well-rounded basketball player and one of the Big Ten’s best.
“He is more vocal, not just on the offensive end either,” Lighty said. “He is taking a leadership role on the defensive end.”
Although he has his sights set on becoming a complete player, Buford has not forgotten what got him to this point.
After long practices, the Toledo, Ohio, native stays in the gym perfecting his smooth jumper and continuing to sharpen his offensive prowess. Senior guard Diebler expects big things from his dedicated fellow guard.
“Will is a guy where he has always had the talent, and I think now, just focusing more on the mental aspect of the game is just going to make him unbelievable,” Diebler said. “The guy is so talented, and we have seen glimpses of it, especially last year and with him being Freshman of the Year his freshman year. Will is a guy who I think is going to have a great year.”
Buford played down the individual aspect, saying the only number that matters is the number in the win column.
“Personal goals: I just want to win,” he said. “Team goals: Do good during the regular season, be the Big Ten Tournament champions again and go farther in the NCAA” Tournament.
And as questions of a possible jump to the NBA loom, Buford’s sights still go no further than winning.
“I am still looking forward to two more years,” he said. “If I feel I am ready to go after this year, then I will go, but I’m more focused on this year and trying to win games.”