Buckner Still Follows his Tigers

Nearly a decade has passed since Greg Buckner last ran the hardwood at Clemson. In the meantime, this ex-Tiger standout has put together a nice niche with a number of teams in the NBA.

Buckner or "Buck" as he is better known as, was drafted into the Association by Dallas in 1999, who took him in the second round. After a year in the CBA, he made his NBA debut with the Mavericks in 1999. Besides his time in Big D, where he has had two stints, Buckner has also played in Philadelphia, Denver and Minnesota. He now finds himself in Memphis as one of the few veterans with one of the youngest teams in the entire league.

Always true to his roots, "Buck" was kind enough to give CUTigers.com a phone interview from the Home of Elvis. Here's what he had to say:

How do you look back on your time at Clemson almost a decade later?
Buckner: My time in Clemson, that was the best time of my life so far. Even though I made it to the NBA, where you get to travel a lot, that Clemson time was special. I'm always going to be a Tiger. I've been with different teams and played in different cities in the NBA but there's no place like Clemson.

You are really the only Clemson product in the NBA right now- you think that will change now with what Coach Purnell has done in the last couple of years?
Buckner: You've got to win games in order to get an opportunity in the league. We were down for a while, I think since Coach (Rick) Barnes left. Now, Coach (Oliver) Purnell is changing minds and changing the atmosphere there. He's getting guys in there who can play. To compete in the ACC, you've got to have players and we haven't had the caliber of players to compete in the ACC. And if you can't compete in the ACC, then you can't compete in the NBA.

It sounds like you keep up with the fortunes of your alma mater pretty closely.
Buckner: Oh, I do. I just had Trevor Booker with me in Dallas. He was working with me all summer. He's a great kid. I think he has a great upside and a great future. I keep up with those guys and try to tell them what they can do to further their career either in the NBA or overseas. I also had James [Mays] with me last year.

Specifically, what kinds of advice have you given these guys?
Buckner: There's different types of advice (that I give). There are different positions and different situations. I just tell them to stay grounded and to stay focused. I also tell them that anything can happen. They might not go in the first round but if you continue to work at it, things will work out. There are things you have to be able to do to make it in the NBA and every player out there can do certain things. I just try to teach those guys how to do it?

When is the last time you made it back for a game at Littlejohn Coliseum?
Buckner: I haven't been back to Littlejohn since I was a player. I've been back for football games but haven't for basketball. It's just so hard with basketball season going on. I want to play five more years in the NBA but I can't wait to be able to go back and take in that atmosphere on a weekly basis and see more games in a season. I want to be able to see more football games and baseball games. I was a big sports fan and would love to see all those teams.

Has Coach Purnell and his staff reached out to you?
Buckner: Oh, definitely (they have reached out). I have kids now and it's tougher for me to get back there in the summer. So, that's why I invite those guys to hang out with me, stay with me and work out with me over the summer. They definitely have had their hand out to me and the coaches have an open door policy. He's talked to me several times and I think they're going in the right direction. We don't have many stars any more but he's trying to reach out to those guys that made it and can have a positive influence on the young guys.

Greg Buckner became the first Tiger men's basketball player in history to start for three NCAA Tournament teams and four postseason tournament teams. He was Clemson's leading scorer for four straight years, just the fifth player in ACC history to accomplish this feat. He concluded his Clemson career ranked fourth in scoring with 1754 points.
After you're retired, would being involved with the program be an option?
Buckner: Only if they invite me (would I do that). I'm not going to try and go in there, be the big man on campus and step on anybody's toes. I would love to coach. I want to coach when I'm finished. Whether it's college, high school or the NBA, I just want to coach. If I get an opportunity to go back and coach at Clemson, that would be great. No (TV doesn't interest me), I want to coach. I would love to be a GM one day but my main focus is to be a championship-caliber coach. I want to win championships as a coach.

The Grizzlies are your fifth different NBA team. How tough is it for you to have moved around so much?
Buckner: Leaving my kids (is the toughest part). When I was younger and by myself, it didn't bother me at all. But now, I've got kids. My oldest is in school now, so she can't up and leave when I get traded. So, it's tough being without my kids. That's the hardest part.

Discuss the Greg Buckner Foundation and what it does.
Buckner: We just do different things. It's all about education and helping underprivileged kids. I was an underprivileged kid and growing up, education wasn't a big thing. But when I got to high school and Clemson, it kind of opened my eyes to how important education was. I try to do things with my foundation like my golf tournament to show kids at an early age that if you take care of your foundation, which is starting early with your education, the better off you will be.

You're one of the more veteran players in Memphis. Can you talk about what that is like playing on such a young team?
Buckner: I think we're young and are going to take our growing pains. But I also think there is a lot of talent here but it's young talent. Hopefully we'll find a way to grow, grow together and find a way to put this thing together to grow in the right direction. I think we've got an excellent opportunity to win more games this year. We've just got to go out there and be better defensively and be more unselfish on offense by doing things like setting screens to make other guys look better.

What does it take to be a great defender in the NBA?
Buckner: There's different kinds of defenders. Some guys have quick feet, some have quick hands and some have both, which makes them very special. I think the thing is, you have to want to play defense. I think anybody can play defense, you've just got to want to. Some guys come up in high school with a coach that doesn't put an emphasis on defense. But I was lucky enough to have a coach who emphasized it and a coach in college who showed me different types of techniques. My high school and college coach didn't care how good you were offensively. If you didn't play defense, then you didn't get on the court.

What's the biggest misconception the average fan has about the life of an NBA player?
Buckner: I think they're wrong (that all we do is practice and then go home and play video games the rest of the day). Right now, I don't have any legs. If I just went to shootaround, I would be feeling good. But my legs are so sore right now. In professional sports in general, it's a year-long job. You have to stay in shape and continue to work on your weaknesses because guys are getting younger and better at a faster rate. If you don't continue to work on your skills, then you'll be at home, behind a desk or maybe without a job. So, you've got to continue to work. People think it's a sweet job but you've got to keep working 12 months out of the year.

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