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Entries in Anthony Buford (2)


Part 2: Buford Weighs In On Final Four, WVU, Cincinnati

Anthony Buford

One Great Season

Former Cincinnati standout Anthony Buford said this week he thinks he has an idea what the West Virginia athletic community might be experiencing.

Under then-coach Bob Huggins, Buford helped lead the Bearcats to the school's first Final Four in 30 years back in 1992. And nearly two decades later, Huggins now has his alma mater, the West Virginia Mountaineers, in the Final Four for the first time in half a century.

Like he did at UC, Huggins turned the trick at WVU in just his third season, and Buford remembers the huge outpouring of support the Cincinnati community showed in 1992. He said there's probably been an even larger showing in Morgantown this week.


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"There are no professional sports in West Virginia, so the whole state is probably in a euphoric state," he said. "The university and their basketball program, their coaches and players, students, alumni and boosters are incredibly thrilled. I'm sure they are experiencing unbelievable pride right now. That's what I saw when we went to the Final Four. It was so exciting to see the pride that UC graduates exhibited and the thrill from past teams that won championships. Many of those players who were still around came back and showed us so much support. They felt like the program was back to the lofty standards they'd set so long ago."

In Wednesday's part one of this interview with Buford, the former guard said he and Huggins had a "mean-spirited" blowup a couple of years ago. Has the relationship been repaired?

Buford: I saw (Huggins) when West Virginia came to Cincinnati last year. At the end of the game, guys were just congregating and Bob sneaks up behind me and gives me this big hug. That wasn't really his character, but it was certainly nice to see him.

OGS: You said you don't pay much attention to the Final Four because of the treatment Cincinnati received in 1992. Is that still true?

Buford: In years past, I've always watched the first and second rounds, And this year I'll probably pay a little attention to the West Virginia - Duke game. I like (Duke guard) Nolan Smith. I had a pretty close relationship with his father (former Louisville star Derek Smith), and I've known Nolan since he was 3 years old.

OGS: What's the reception like around town this time of year? Do people still want to talk about 1992?

Buford: We didn't win the national championship, so when I see how the 1961 and 1962 teams are treated for winning it, I'm envious. That sits with me. I think about that all the time, just how we would have been treated around the city had we won it. It's a painful memory. I can't even watch the Final Four game from 1992. It sucks to lose once you get there, man. You realize how close you are ... If you get there as a sophomore or something, it's one thing, but as a senior, for me, it was lights out, and that's painful.

OGS: Do you see any similarities between your 1992 team and Huggins' current team at West Virginia?

Buford: No. We played 94 feet. We pressed all up and down the floor and he doesn't really do that anymore. They've got a different group of guys. Da'Sean Butler has got to be one of the most under-appreciated guys in the country. I love how he competes every time he steps on the floor. I was surprised he wasn't a first-team All-American.

Bob basically has transformed his team, including some of those holdovers, from finesse players to we're-going-to-punch-you-in-the-face-now type of players. Maybe they used to play a 1-3-1 and shoot threes, but now under Huggins, they're going to play defense, rebound like crazy and hit the weight room like they've never seen it before.

OGS: Why does everybody hate Duke?

Buford: People hate elitists or folks who project themselves as elitists. The sense is that Duke fans, alumni and players think they're better than everyone else. They give you the impression that they're looking down on you. That may not be true. I can't really say that I've had a whole lot of interaction with Duke players, but I have had some with Duke fans. People have a belief that Duke kids get all the calls, that they have an edge. A lot of that might not be true, but perception can sometimes become a reality.

OGS: Cincinnati seems to hit that 17- or 18-win mark every year under Mick Cronin, but hasn't been able to get over the hump. What is keeping the Bearcats from being a factor in the Big East and returning to the national scene?

Buford: The interesting thing I hear a lot around here is that (Cronin) left and went to rival Louisville. A lot of people heard the Huggins version of that story. But the reality is that if you had aspirations of becoming a head coach, Bob wasn't really going to help you. Mick didn't go chasing Louisville; Louisville came after him.

But having said that, there are some clear issues where Mick needs to grow. He needs to make some changes in some areas. Have they improved every year under him? Yes. But I thought in the preseason that he had a 24-win team and maybe a Sweet 16 team.

Personally, I'd get rid of some guys. If Yancy Gates plays next year like he did in his first two years ... he should be punishing teams inside. I don't know if he has the motor or the desire to become a great player. And when you bring in new guys who look at his work ethic, what do you think they're going to do? So Yancy is first and (Rashad) Bishop is second. You either have to recruit over and get guys who would be able to send them to the bench, or just get rid of them.

If you firmly believe in your program, then run it the way you think you should run it and get rid of anyone who doesn't help you get there. You cannot win with Yancy Gates. He's a coach-killer.

Here are two things I do know about Mick Cronin: He does know about basketball; he's probably too smart to be coaching some of the kids he's coaching. And two, he works his behind off. You gotta somehow get the kids to do what you want them to do.

OGS: What about Lance Stephenson?

Buford: Lance is very skilled but has a lot to learn about the college game. When you play in Brooklyn, no one takes charges, but in college, especially in the Big East, somebody's going to be in your way, so you have to learn how to score off the dribble. If someoene's screening, you should be cutting to the basket, not away from it, to get a pass and use your body to get to the basket. Yancy can shoot the basketball, (Ibrahima) Thomas can shoot the basketball, and with the lanes spread open now, you've got Cashmere Wright finishing at the basket, not over size. Lance will be driving to the basket for unmolested dunks, and now your crowd's into the game.

OGS: And staying in the Big East, do you think Steve Lavin can turn things around at St. John's?

Buford: I know his record didn't show it, but I thought Norm Roberts was just starting to get his team to come around. With that being said, I think Steve Lavin's energy and his experience going around the country as a broadcaster the last six or seven years, being exposed to a lot of other good coaches and programs, will prove to be invaluable. He's going to have to assemble a staff that's able to recruit the New York area. But he has a good enough reputation that he can recruit nationally as well. All New Yorkers want a winner, so if it's a bunch of New York kids or a mix of New York kids and some players from other regions, I think it's an excellent hire. He has a good base of players already in place, so it's just a matter of bringing in good new guys.


Ex-Bearcat Anthony Buford Doesn't Miss Final Four

Anthony Buford

One Great Season

I'm not sure how Morgantown reacted when Bob Huggins vowed to bring a national championship to the great state of West Virginia, but when he left Akron for Cincinnati two decades ago, a similar claim left Bearcats' fans at least a little bit skeptical.

At his introductory press conference in 1989, Huggins told local reporters he intended to dust off UC's rich basketball tradition and put the program back on the map with a Final Four appearance within three years. And sure enough, the Bearcats had earned that elusive trip to Minneapolis to play Michigan and the Fab Five in the 1992 national semifinals.

Guard Anthony Buford was a huge factor in Cincinnati's success, and while he was able to happily recall that incredible Clifton winter, its culmination at college basketball's most high-profile venue left Buford entirely dissatisfied with far more than returning to campus without a national championship trophy.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Buford, who's been calling UC games on local television and sometimes for ESPN's regional coverage, and also is a financial planner, was kind enough to spend some time on the phone with OGS on Wednesday to cover a range of topics. Here's a portion of the conversation:

OGS: What was that Final Four experience like for you? What do you think about most when you recall that trip to Minneapolis?
Buford: I don't really think about the Final Four because I don't think we were treated with any respect or class when we were there. I think it was the beginning of Bob's sour relationship with the media. Yeah, there were some good stories here and there, but overall the treatment we got was terrible. All we did was beat the teams in front of us. It wasn't our fault that Kansas lost to UTEP, or that USC lost to Georgia Tech. But all of a sudden, you've got people asking how Bob could have done it with all these transfers. He had to have cheated. But we had just as much of a right to be in the Final Four as Michigan and Duke and Indiana did.

I remember reading an article that called us a team of misfits back then. In Minneapolis, we were getting ready to take the floor for a practice right after Michigan got done. There were lots of media people and cameras all over the place during Michigan's practice. But when we came out on the floor, they all left.

After we lost and we got a chance to enjoy the city and the atmosphere and the accoutrements of the Final Four, that was nice. I didn't take anything away from the Final Four, from an experience standpoint, that was cool. We won two rings that season, one for winning the conference and one for getting to the Final Four. I only kept the ring I got from the school for winning the conference. I tossed the other ring from the bus.

Bob Huggins

OGS: When Huggins took the Cincinnati job, you played at Akron for another season before deciding to transfer. Why did you ultimately come to Cincinnati?
Buford: First off, I signed with the University of Akron because of Bob Huggins. I had been recruited by Missouri, DePaul, Stanford, and then Connecticut came in late, as well as a lot of MAC schools. The main thing that struck me with Bob was that he seemed to be the one guy who came across immediately who was genuine and truthful, and that was important to me. I would like to say every player in college basketball would like to play for a guy like that. I was raised like that by my dad and that was incredibly important to me and Bob exhibited that from day one.

I was happy playing for Bob. He was a straight-up guy. And this many years later, that's what his players still love about him, and that's why they'll go to battle for him. It makes it really easy for you mentally. He can coach you to be a player, just as long as you go out there and give everything you have in practice and in games. Playing under him certainly teaches you incredible mental toughness.

OGS: When you got to Cincinnati, did you think you had a Final Four team?
Buford: The year I sat out, we probably would have been a tournament team had I played that year. But the next summer, when I saw the guys who were coming in, I had a feeling we were going to have a lot of talent. I met Erik Martin at the Five Star camp and told him I was transferring to Cincinnati and said he should come there, too. And one of his teammates at Five Star, Corie Blount, was interested, too. So once we all got to Cincinnati, I took the time to teach them all of our offenses and defenses so we'd be able to hit the ground running once the season started. With the talent we had on our team, it was evident that we would be good. We started the season pretty good and then we go to Michigan State. We were unranked and they were ranked seventh or eighth or something, and even though we ended up losing a 19-point lead and losing that game, that's when we realized we could play with anybody in the country.

NCAA Tournament

OGS: Were you afraid there'd be too much talent and not enough basketballs?
Buford: I knew we had some competitive guys on the team and I wanted to make sure they realized how important it was to listen to just the messages from Bob, but not the vehicle through which they were delivered. He can play some psychological games and I was hoping guys would understand that and not get rattled when Bob would try to tempt us.

OGS: What's your relationship with Huggins like now? Do you stay in touch?
Buford: He and I don't talk a whole lot. I appreciate everything he's done for me when it comes to basketball. I understand and know what he's meant to my college basketball career. But a couple years ago when I was in town for a Pittsburgh-West Virginia game, he wouldn't give me anything good to promote his program on television. He was his usual self, saying, "We're not that good" and stuff like that. Pittsburgh won the game and later when a group of us went somewhere after the game, I saw him. I told him it was too bad (West Virginia) couldn't get that fourth foul on (then-Pitt star) Sam Young. That's when he disagreed and kind of ripped some of his guys. And when Bob gets upset, he'll go after you. But I'm not a kid anymore. I'm not playing for him anymore, so I'm not going to let him berate me in public like that. I said something back to him and let's just put it this way; the night ended shortly after that.

OGS: Was that conversation light-hearted?
Buford: No, it was mean-spirited.

OGS: Now moving on to the teams in this year's Final Four, Michigan State is making yet another appearance. Being a native of Flint, once a huge hoops hotbed, do you ever root for Sparty?
Buford: Never. I have unabashed hatred for Michigan State. When I was coming up in Flint, Jud Heathcote was the coach at Michigan State and Bill Frieder was the coach at Michigan. I was probably the top player coming out of Flint when I was a senior. But Jud Heathcote didn't recruit me because he thought I was too small to play in the Big Ten. And Bill Frieder said in the papers that (Flint North star and Michigan signee) Demetrius Calip was the best player in Flint. But when (Buford's Flint Central team) played at Flint North I think I went for 39. And Frieder was there, and that quote was in the paper just that day. I was playing on pure anger.

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The year I was sitting out after I transferred to UC, Michigan State played at Cincinnati and (future NBA star) Steve Smith, who was a close friend of mine, was talking trash to me while I sat on the bench: "Buf, you better tell these fools who I am."

Now the next year when we played at their place, you know I was yapping at Jud Heathcote the whole time. I was giving him the business. And then when we played them again in the tournament, before the game, Jud said something to me like, "Take it easy on us today" or something like that. I gave them 29 at their place and 21 in the tournament. I felt pretty good about what I did to Michigan State.

OGS: Butler appears as though it's trying to give the "it's-just-another-game" approach, but we know differently. How will the Final Four, in the mid-major's own backyard, be different from anything those kids have experienced?
Buford: The distractions are going to be incredible for them. You cannot get away from it. And you've got every relative you've never known calling up asking for tickets. That's what Butler is dealing with right now, and it's worse for them because the Final Four is right in their backyard.

When we beat Memphis (in the 1992 Elite Eight) and we arrived back in town, the airport was loaded up. We were looking out of the airplane windows like, "This is crazy." And during the week, you're trying to go to class and you can't concentrate. Everyone wants to talk basketball with you. In fact, I just tried to duck in to the bookstore for a minute to get a blue book -- because you have exams, which was another huge distraction -- and one guy asked me to sign something. All of a sudden, they've got a table set up and I'm sitting down signing autographs. You leave for a couple hours to go to classes and when you get back, your voice mail is loaded up and all this.

We were having a tough time. We'd be sitting in the locker room getting ready for practice and talking about how maddening everything was when what we were supposed to be doing was enjoying it all. So finally, we told Coach we had to get out of there, so he arranged for us to fly up to Minneapolis a day earlier than we had originally planned.

OGS: Who is your pick this weekend?
Buford: I had picked West Virginia to play in the championship game. I think this team finds a way. People talk about Duke's size. But they talked about Kentucky's size. Duke's big guys are going to have to come away from the basket to guard West Virginia's perimeter people in that open-post offense. And that will open up penetrating lanes and cutting lanes. I see West Virginia playing a very similar game to the one they played against Kentucky and I think they'll win it. I think Michigan State wins because Butler will have a whole lot more pressure than if they were able to go to a neutral site away from home and I don't know how well they'll handle it. This is Huggs' best chance to win a national championship. West Virginia will beat Michigan State for the championship.

Make sure to check back Friday for a few more questions with Buford, including his take on the current state of the Cincinnati program.