Buckles eager to play with future teammates

Peyton Siva is the high energy guy in Louisville's 2009 recruiting class. Mike Marra is the long-range bomber; Stephen Van Treese provides muscle inside. What does low-key Rakeem Buckles bring to the table? Lots of athleticism and skill to the power forward position.

In town for the Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball Classic this weekend, Rakeem Buckles says he's looking forward to teaming with his future Louisville teammates on the Black squad.

"I want to win this game," Buckles said. "I think it's going to be real fun to play with these guys. I'm looking forward to playing with them for the next four years."

Buckles is most familiar with point guard Peyton Siva. The two know each other from their AAU days and Buckles, a Miami native, caught Siva's show in the McDonald's All-American game last week. He was impressed by what he saw.

"I watched Peyton play in the McDonald's game down in Miami," said Buckles. "He's nice. I'm looking forward to playing with him next season."

Rakeem Buckles

As a senior, Buckles was forced to step into a leadership role after several seniors graduated, including current Florida guard Ray Shipman. The 6-foot-8 forward responded, leading his to regional finals while averaging 22.8 points, 13.1 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots per game.

"I improved on being a leader," Buckles said. "I had to step up and be a leader this year. Coach (Lieberman) pushed me a lot to be a leader. So that's what I had to do and it was a big challenge doing it."

Buckles was named Florida's Class 4A Player of the Year and was a finalist for Florida Mr. Basketball honors. If he improves this strength during the off-season, Buckles could help Louisville replace Earl Clark at power forward next season.

"They want me to get stronger," Buckles said. "I'm eating a lot but I'm not eating all the junk foods. I'm drinking a (protein) shake three times a day. I've been doing that for about a month and I've gained two or three pounds."

Though he's seen some positive results in the past month, Buckles still has work to do to reach Pitino's weight goals.

"He wants me to be at 215. I'm at 205 right now," Buckles said. "He sees me playing the four."

While he built his reputation as an active rebounder with a load of athleticism, Buckles worked hard to expand his perimeter skills as a senior.

"I can go by the slower man or post up the smaller man," Buckles said. "In the NBA there are 6-8 wings so I just started working on my ball-handling and getting better at it. I've been improving on that and I'm going to keep working."

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