NEW ORLEANS -- William Buford strolled to the press conference podium at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Thursday and took a seat where college basketball players dream of culminating their tenures.
Buford’s career will end on college basketball’s biggest stage. The Ohio State guard is averaging 14.4 points per game for a team that will face Kansas in the Final Four on Saturday night.
He is a rare veteran. He was an NBA prospect after his freshman season in 2008-09. But the senior chose to exhaust his eligibility and complete all four years. This season, he leads a roster that features 11 underclassmen.
“It’s a tremendous experience. And I’m just trying to live in the moment right now,” Buford said Thursday.
When Buford plays well, the team tends to follow. He scored 25 points in Ohio State's 72-70 victory at Michigan State on March 4, for example.
When he’s been off, however, the Buckeyes have struggled, too. The Buckeyes were 2-3 in Big Ten play when Buford scored in single digits.
Buford comes to New Orleans on something of a slide. The Toledo, Ohio, native is 8-for-33 from the field in his team’s past three games.
The Buckeyes still managed to reach their 11th Final Four, but Buford knows their chances of advancing to Monday’s national championship game may depend on his weekend performance.
“When I start off hot and keep going like that throughout the end of the game it makes it easier for them and it makes it easier for us as a team,” he said.
Ohio State versus Kansas presents matchup issues for both teams. Buford’s size – he’s 6-foot-6 – could pose a major problem for the Jayhawks. That’s assuming he’s the same player who averaged 20.7 points in nonconference matchups against Duke, Florida and Kansas.
“I’m just going to try to have my mind right, just have my mind in attack mode and be ready to compete for 40 minutes,” Buford said. “This is the highest level of college basketball. Your mind has to be totally right. I’m just going to try to do that and do whatever I can do to help my teammates.”
Lenzelle Smith Jr. said the young players on the roster admire Buford both for his accomplishments on the floor and his longevity.
He’s recorded 1,971 points, 659 rebounds and 360 assists during his four years with the Buckeyes. He established a Value City Arena record with 1,049 career points at the school’s home venue.
Smith said he’s confident that Buford will add to those achievements in the Big Easy, especially after watching him practice.
“After practice today, I don’t think Will is struggling no more,” Smith said. “I don’t think he missed today. So I’m interested to see him get out there [Saturday] and find his stroke early. I think Will is back.”
To prove it, Buford said he has to be aggressive with a shot at the national title on the line.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be the first shot of the game. It could be a couple of possessions of me getting warmed up, because I’m going to be really excited when the game starts,” he said. “I’ll probably have some jitters and will want to get them out of the way, take my first shot and start being aggressive from there.”