Interview with Buckman's HS coach

In part three of our five-part, week-long profile on Tar Heel target Brad Buckman, <i>IC</i>'s David Thompson chats with Austin (TX) Westlake head coach Clifton McNeely. McNeely has produced such stars as Chris Mihm and Luke Axtell -- and now Buckman. Stay tuned for photos and an interview with Buckman's AAU coach the next two days.

IC: Any outstanding games or moments in games last year that stick out in your mind for Brad?

Coach McNeely: The biggest one I think, the turning point in Brad's career, the one that kind of established him, and I think [the one where] he saw his potential and capabilities came in the championship of our own Texas Invitational Basketball Tournament [hosted by Westlake High School in Austin, TX]. We upset Bishop Gorman out of Las Vegas who at that time was ranked 15th in the nation. And I think it was by far Brad's best performance of the [2000 – 2001] season because of the caliber of players we were playing against. They had 3-4 Division I, big 6-9 players—one is going to be a freshman at the University of Colorado this year [Jason Carter].

Coach Clifton McNeely

IC: How did Brad do against him?

Coach: He had a great game—in the second half of a nip-and-tuck game. In the second half we made an adjustment and, offensively, stepped Brad out in the perimeter and he knocked down a couple of threes and separated the game. It ended with Brad just taking over. He had a breakaway dunk in the final moments of the game and just brought the crowd [into it] and got everybody excited. Even two of the officials as he was running down to the other end of the court, gave him a high five after he got a technical foul for hanging on the rim after dunking it. I think he really established himself in that game.

IC: Are you hosting the Texas Invitational again this year? Do you know who'll be here?

Coach: Yes we are. Right now we have several teams that are coming in. One from Tennessee and a team coming in from California, a team from Nevada and a lot of the better teams here in the state of Texas. [The dates are] December 28th and 29th.

And we also travel out to the prestigious Reebok Holiday Prep Classic which is probably the most renowned high school basketball tournament, out in Vegas Dec. 20th through the 23rd.

IC: There have been quite a few coaches that have been looking at Brad at the tournaments.

Coach: Well, hopefully, we're narrowing the list down. We're starting to limit it and I think Brad is starting to get closer and closer to that decision.

IC: What other recruits have come out of Westlake in years past?

Coach: I've been here—this is my seventh season at Westlake. We've had Chris Mihm who was a High School All-American out of Westlake who went on to star at [the University of] Texas and was the No. 6 pick by the Bulls and was traded. Luke Axtell who just finished up at Kansas last year—6'9".

A couple of players that have done very well and have gone on and are playing college ball now: Drew Gressett, a point guard two years ago—he's now with the University of Texas, and Trennis Jones who's playing at the University of Colorado. We've had a few good players that have come out here in the last few years.

IC: Did you play ball?

Coach: Yeah, way back when. I played a little bit. I started out at Florida State—with Joe Williams in the old Metro Conference. Through some injuries and stuff ended up in Texas and have been in Texas now for a long time.

IC: In your opinion, why has Brad skyrocketed in the national rankings?

Coach: I think a lot of it is timing. I think it's important to bring a kid along slowly in a couple of things on the floor and off the floor in that development process. I think a lot of it is exposure and who you play with.

Last year Brad went out and played with a team based out of Dallas—a Nike-based team, and traveled with them in the summers and played and, quite honestly, I think that because of the lack of quality teamwork on that team, I don't think that he was able to really showcase his talents.

And then, this past spring, we made a decision for Brad to play with a team based out of Los Angeles, CA—Double Pump—and they just worked together. They had two great individuals working with them as coaches that really stressed team and I think he just shined.

You know, I knew what I had [laughing]!

IC: How long have you been coaching Brad's development as a player?

Coach: Brad's been with us since his sophomore year so this will actually be his third year.

IC: What position is he playing for you this year?

Coach: Brad will play what we call the 4-spot--the power forward spot.

IC: Is that his natural position?

Coach: I think at the next level that's definitely his position. I think that it is because he has the ability to play both inside and outside. He handles the ball very well. I think his range has increased in terms of shooting the basketball. He can step on the perimeter and shoot it from long range and he can take people off the dribble and go to the basket.

IC: How about the 4/3?

Coach: No, I think he's more of a 4. I think he's limited in terms of playing the 3 because I view it from both sides of the floor and I don't think he can defend the 3—out on the perimeter. I think the 4 and the 5 he can defend and he's a "4 man."

IC: Is that the position colleges are looking for him to play?

Coach: I think that most schools…that Brad has narrowed it down to, are all talking to him about playing the power forward.

IC: What is Brad's greatest strength as a basketball player?

Coach: His heart. His desire. I think Brad's motivated from within. I think he has the drive and the desire to be successful. He was born with a lot of God-given talent, obviously being 6-8, 210-220. You don't coach those things. But think he's just got a drive and I think he's really, in the last couple of years, developed a passion for the game. A lot of is just his heart.

IC: What would you like to see Brad improve on? In other words, how is the best way for Brad to mature and move forward as a player?

Coach: I think for Brad, in terms of what we look at here in his development, is that he's as good as the weakest player on our team. And I think that the big thing he needs to work on to be a great player is he's got to make all those around him great, too. And I think that's one of the things he's going to strive for this year. And I think being more of a leader out there on the floor. Those are things he's definitely taken a big step forward to do.

IC: Is Brad a vocal leader?

Coach: No, Brad is more of a leader by example. I think that if you get to know Brad, he's going to be the first and the last in the gym. He's going to get in the gym when nobody else is there—make a lot of his teammates aware that his work ethic is tremendous. He gets out of school at 2:00 and by the time his classmates are getting done at 4:00, he's already gotten two hours of workout in—weights and conditioning. That's why. He's just really made a strong commitment to that and, in doing that, he's still found a way to balance his good academics.

IC: You've talked about things for Brad to improve on. How has Brad improved from last year to this year already?

Coach: He's improved since last year because one of the things we challenged him in the spring, after the season was over, was that he had to go out and get some more weapons. What I mean by weapons is some more offensive skills.

I think last year he was a little bit limited. He did more things down around the basket and I think he worked extremely hard this spring and this summer to get out on the perimeter more and be able to shoot the basketball, to take people off the dribble from out there.

And I think he's developed a lot more skills down around the basket in terms of moves and things.

I think the biggest thing is that he has just understood how hard you have to play every moment you walk out on the court and I think that's the great thing besides his heart. He just understands how hard you have to play the game and he goes out there and he plays hard day in and day out.

IC: How do you use Brad on the offensive end?

Coach: We get him the ball. We're very team-oriented. We know he's the "go-to guy" and I think his teammates realize he's got to have the basketball in crucial situations. He's not the only answer out there. He's got to do things within his role and capabilities. The great thing is that our opponents are going to double-team him and triple-team him and Brad's such an unselfish player, he's going to find the open man and I think that's a lot of his development as a great passer for his position and size.

IC: That's offense, how do you use him defensively?

Coach: Defensively, we're primarily a defensive team. I believe in multiple defenses—man-to-man and a little bit of zone defense. We match him up against the other team's best post player or best forward. We're looking at the match-up situations from a team concept and so, not necessarily he's guarding the 5. If our 5-man matches up better their 5-man, we'll do that. If Brad matches up better with their 4, we'll do that. If their 5 is truly outstanding, we'll flip-flop it and match Brad on him.

IC: So how is his defense?

Coach: He's tremendous I think. He can get better out on the perimeter just like most kids can coming out of high school. He's got to develop that and continue to work and improve that. He's a tremendous defensive player down in the post because of his ability to block shots. He has great timing and a natural instinct to go get the basketball. And on the defensive side he attacks the glass and he's a ferocious rebounder on the defensive end.

IC: What's his workout like?

Coach: Brad, on average, spends about an hour a day in the weight room. 30-45 minutes doing footwork and agility drills. Obviously, that was limited in the summertime because of all his traveling.

IC: What is Brad's potential on the college level, having been there yourself?

Coach: I think Brad's potential is unlimited. If he gets the right program and he gets to a place where player development is important and teamwork is important, the sky's the limit for him.

IC: What style of play is best suited for?

Coach: Because of his athletic ability, he's going to fit better in a system where it's important to get out and run, that's going to do a little bit of pressing and where they're going to play a lot of man-to-man defense. His athletic ability and his agility allow him to play the up-tempo game. He's better suited to more of an up-tempo game than he is for just a half-court game.

IC: If a person were watching Brad for the first time, what would be the most noticeable thing about his game?

Coach: I think the biggest thing is how hard he works and how hard he goes and attacks the offensive and defensive glass. He's just a great competitor.

IC: Can he shoot the three? What is his shooting range like?

Coach: I think, like I said, he's worked hard this summer on improving his weapons. Truly his range is to 21' and I think that he's going to continue to improve and increase that because he has the ability to. I think some guys tap out when they get to their senior year and there's not a whole lot of room for [more] and I just see so much more growth in Brad's game if he's in the right place.

IC: Would you characterize Brad as a physical, power player or a finesse player or somewhere in between?

Coach: He's probably more toward the power side-more of a physical player.

IC: How is Brad doing in the classroom?

Coach: He's a very good student. Westlake is considered one of the best public schools in America. The average SAT score coming out of here is 1200+ and he's very solid and sound in the classroom.

IC: Is Brad already qualified?

Coach: Yes.

IC: How is it coaching Brad?

Coach: Brad is extremely coachable. We can have a practice where I'm very hard on Brad and the next day or that evening he's back in my office, pulling practical jokes and cutting up with me. He's very coachable. He wants to be coached because he wants to get better.

IC: Tell me about Brad's work ethic.

Coach: I can't complain about his work ethic one bit.

IC: How would you describe Brad's attitude, game-time, practice-time, etc.?

Coach: In practice Brad tends to dominate the practice, especially when we're working the post and individual stuff, but I think that at times he tries to allow some of his teammates to step up and give them that opportunity to develop and improve their game. When game time shows up, he's all business. If he's got to go get every rebound, then that's what he's going to do. He's just all business when it's game time. He enjoys playing the game and he gets after it.

IC: When does Brad want to make a decision?

Coach: Right now, Brad's leaning to committing in the early period. For the most part now, he's got it narrowed down to four schools and I just don't see any more openings within that window. He's at the point now, he knows which schools he wants to go visit and he knows which schools he'd like to have into his home.

IC: What schools are those?

Coach: At this point, North Carolina is one of those schools. The University of Kansas, UCLA and Texas.

IC: Do any of those schools stand out above the rest as far as who Brad favors?

Coach: No. Brad and I had a discussion yesterday [8/16]. He came and met with me so we could start narrowing this down and start setting some of these things up and we talked about the pros and cons of each program. You know, each program has a lot of plusses and each program has some minuses and some things that, in terms of Brad's decision-making process, those things have got to be answered in the home visit and in his campus visits.

IC: He's setting up in home visits?

Coach: Yes.

IC: Has he got dates set up for in home visits?

Coach: Right now, I have visited with his family and I'm in the process now of visiting with the college coaches. Most of them on Sunday evening. And get all the dates and things worked out.

IC: No firm dates?

Coach: I just have a lot of tentative [dates] that coaches have thrown out over the phone, but till I get with [Brad's] Mom and Dad, nothing confirmed, no.

IC: Who were some of the coaches who watched him play last year? Who was most noticeable as far as their interest in Brad?

Coach: I don't know that many really got out and saw him other than Texas. Texas and Missouri has probably done the most recruiting of him early. I think, Utah, but Utah was never a school that I think Brad was ever really interested in. Those other schools, as I mentioned Texas and Missouri and Utah, they saw him early and, other than that, there's not a whole lot of other coaches.

IC: Have any of the four schools, UNC, Texas, UCLA and Kansas, offered him a scholarship?

Coach: Oh yeah—all of them have.

IC: All of those four?

Coach: All of those four have offered a scholarship and many others that were, I don't know if you want to say heartbroken, but they were a little upset the other day when we made some phone calls.

IC: This is news—the fact that UNC has offered. Can you confirm, "UNC has offered a scholarship"?

Coach: You'd have to ask their program that. I can't say that. I can only tell you what Coach Doherty has shared with me—you know, the fact that they feel he can come in and play for their program, that they want to come in and sit in his home and they want him to come on campus. I would say that that… Other than that, I can't say that if somebody else called up today… If I'm not mistaken, with Carolina's situation they're looking for three big men.

IC: Who's expressed the strongest interest in Brad?

Coach: I think that all of them have. UCLA, Kansas and North Carolina have all kind of jumped on the bandwagon toward the end of the summer. I think Texas has done the most work early. Obviously, there is some logistics in that and it's made it easier. They've known about Brad a little bit longer.

I look at our program, considering that in the last six years he's going to be our third All-American to come out of this high school. We've got a few other big kids that are going to come up behind him. I don't know, it might be a program worth watching!

We have a couple of young players, a couple of 6-7, 6-8 kids that are going to have some potential to move up [to the next level].

IC: Can you give any names at this point?

Coach: No. They're not ready for that. It's not their turn.

IC: In your opinion, where or what place would be the best place for Brad to play college ball?

Coach: No. That's not my decision. My opinion is to give them advice and answer his questions honestly and be there to be a mentor. It's not my place to tell him that this is going to best suit him. I'm just here to advise him and hopefully he'll make the best decision that's right for Brad.

For me, some people may wish I'd approach it a little bit differently, but I'm his high school coach. I think, ultimately, that's a decision he's got to sit down and make with Mom and Dad. He's the one that's got to go there, whether he stays here in town or whether he goes to one of those other three universities. Ultimately, Brad's got to go there and he's got to go to school and he's got to get the education that's going to help him down the road.

And eventually, I've always been taught that the air goes out of the basketball one day. He's got to go where he's going to establish some relationships that are going to help him down the road in the business world. And he's got to get a good education and I think all four of those institutions we've mentioned can offer that.

IC: Does he have a favorite college team?

Coach: I don't know. Like any kid, it's year-to-year whatever team is hot. You go out right now, no offense, I'm sure Duke probably sells more paraphernalia this year than anyone else.

IC: How does Brad feel about the University of North Carolina? Does he ever express that?

Coach: He attended basketball camp there at a young age. He's like any other kid. I've got an 8-year-old son—you walk into his room and he's got Michael Jordan stuff everywhere. Michael of course is retired, and my son jumps up and down at [the age of] 8 and says "Brad can go and play with Michael Jordan!"

IC: How often does he hear from UNC?

Coach: Within the rules--once a week, three times a month—whatever, very limited.

IC: I'm sorry, I meant written correspondence…

Coach: He gets mail quite often. To be quite honest, at a point, the mail gets redundant. It's the same and a seventeen-, eighteen-year-old kid that reads all that mail is doing pretty good. I'd rather see them reading their books [laughing]!

IC: Who from the North Carolina coaching staff does he hear from?

Coach: Coach Doherty is the one that's pretty much been on the forefront of that. All of the staff have done an admirable job. Coach Doherty is the one who's been contacting here lately.

IC: What do you think Brad should look for in a college program? What's important to you, as a coach, for him?

Coach: Brad needs to go to a place where he's going to be comfortable both as a person and as a basketball player. I think he needs to be comfortable and he needs to go to a place where he looks forward to walking out on that basketball floor and going to practice. He knows he's going to be challenged and pushed but he needs to be in a situation where when he walks off the court, he knows he can go sit down and talk to, whether it's the head coach or assistant coaches, they'll help him in his maturation and development in the stages of his life.

It should be a situation where, culturally, he can grow and socially, academically, and to maximize his skills and potential so that if he wants to play beyond college he has that opportunity.

IC: To whom on the college level would you compare Brad's game?

Coach: Brad will tell you that a lot of people are drawing a comparison to [Troy] Murphy that played at Notre Dame. He's got a potential to be a combination of Murphy and [Michael] Dunleavy. He's got those same type skills. Dunleavy's got, obviously, better range but I think Brad's a more physical player.

IC: What are Brad's aspirations long-term?

Coach: He's like a lot of kids coming out of high school, thinking they want to major in business…

IC: What is Brad's present height?

Coach: We measured him the other day. Barefoot, he was a little over 6'8" with his shoes off. With his shoes on, a little over 6'9"

IC: Is he still growing?

Coach: He has the potential to grow another ½ inch or an inch.

IC: Is he putting on any more weight?

Coach: He's put on 10-15 lbs. since last season.

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