The freshman version of William Buford didn’t think he’d be at Ohio State long enough to leave a lasting legacy. Four years later, now the only player from the 2008 recruiting class remaining on the Buckeyes’ roster, Buford isn't sure how he'll be remembered.
“I really didn't plan on staying for four years, I'll be honest," a light-hearted Buford said Friday. “But as the years progressed and it kept going, I just felt I wanted to stay because these are some of the best times of my life.”
His legacy is still to be determined.
Marred by an inconsistent senior season – and the final game of his junior year where his 2-of-16 shooting performance helped Kentucky beat the top-seeded Buckeyes in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament – Buford could have the weight of the world on his shoulders. If anything is weighing on him, however, nobody knows it.
“I hope (when fans think of me) it's a good memory,” said Buford, who has maintained his usual even-keel demeanor despite a month that has featured a career-high scoring performance and a career-low for a game he’s played at least 30 minutes in. “I know (fans) hate me sometimes, but I hope it's a good memory.”
When Buford trots out onto the Value City Arena floor for the final time on Sunday when the No. 8 Buckeyes host No. 16 Wisconsin, he’ll be the only one recognized during the Senior Day festivities. B.J. Mullens left for the NBA after one season at Ohio State and Walter Offutt and Anthony “Noopy” Crater have both since transferred.
The Buckeyes (23-5, 11-4 Big Ten) are in the middle of a heated conference race – one that will likely only be won if Buford plays the type of basketball that helped him climb to No. 6 on Ohio State’s all-time scoring list.
Perhaps Buford will match senior Samantha Prahalis’ 42-point performance – an OSU single-game record – in her final home game Thursday with women’s team. Or maybe it will be another game in which Buford has failed to stand out.
“My bar is set to win the game,” Buford said. Little does the senior know that the final mold of his legacy will begin to form at the 4 p.m. tip.
But if it were up to Ohio State head coach Thad Matta, Buford’s performance in the final three games on the Buckeyes’ regular season and the team’s eventual NCAA Tournament run would be irrelevant. Matta already has an idea of how he’ll remember Buford.
On track to earn his degree in African-American studies in June, Buford’s dramatic growth off the court is the standard by which Matta gauges his program. In Buford’s case, that same progress has been achieved on the floor.
“When he first got here he wore a hat that was pulled way down over his eyes. You couldn’t see his eyes,” Matta said. “Now when comes in, he’s bright-eyed, and he’s smiling. Those are the things I think are important in this program.”
The group Buford most closely associated himself with left a year ago. David Lighty, Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale all were a year older than Buford, but he was lumped in with seniors because the remaining roster was a group of freshmen.
This year is the first time Buford is main attraction. He has become one of four players in school history to have more than 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 300 assists. He has big company on that list, as Jim Jackson, Evan Turner and Lighty are the other three.
But being in the spotlight comes with great responsibility. Buford’s shooting, which has run hot and cold, will likely be the difference between a deep run in the NCAA Tournament and an early exit.
“I do hope that William goes down – because he will in my mind – as one of the best Ohio State's had, and statistically, the stats are there to prove that,” Matta said. “He’s been a rock and he’s done a great job for us. You don’t average, to this point, 27 wins per year in college basketball in my mind and be under appreciated.”
Follow Me on Twitter and find us on Facebook.