To freshman forward Reginald Buckner, the art of blocking shots isn't a learned trait.
"Timing," he said of his craft. "Great timing. I practice on it, but really it's God-given talent."
As the former Mr. Basketball in Tennessee at Manassas High School, Buckner set the all-time state record for blocked shots, while averaging 19 points, 14 rebounds and six assists per game. In both his junior and senior seasons as a prep standout, he finished with an average of at least seven blocks per game.
All-in-all, Oxford's new "sultan of swat" knows a thing or two about handling rejection.
"That's his gift," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said of Buckner, who now has 21 blocks through nine games. "He can really block shots. He's got to get in a little better shape so he's not fouling as much. But a lot of that is just getting acclimated to the pace of the game."
Through the addition of Buckner, No. 20 Ole Miss (8-1) has added a new weapon to its arsenal unseen in years past.
Buckner, who leads the team and ranks third in the SEC with 2.3 blocks per game, has helped the Rebels average 6.1 swats per contest – good for fourth-best among SEC teams and 21st in the nation.
"I thought it was going to be harder to block shots when I got to college," said Buckner. "But I've gotten into a rhythm. Now it seems that it comes naturally. It's all about reaction. When I see a man driving, I just jump, and hopefully the best happens."
It's a cliché often repeated, but championship teams are built on guard play. And with Ole Miss offering one of the better pairs in the country in junior Chris Warren and sophomore Terrico White, the Rebels are certainly capable of big things in 2009-10.
However, entering the season, depth in the frontcourt was of chief concern. Outside of sophomore Murphy Holloway, the team was returning limited production.
So when Kennedy found a true post threat in the form of a 6-foot-9, 233-pound Buckner, the Rebel head coach made the Memphis, Tenn. product a top recruiting priority.
"He's got a chance to be a tremendous player," Kennedy said of his benchmark signee for the 2009 class. "Reggie has all the physical tools necessary to be an impact guy at this level. He's having a hard time finishing if it's not a dunk, but he's going to be a great player."
But it isn't all about blocking shots for Buckner.
As a still-developing point-producer, he continues to work on his offensive game with extra reps after practice. Buckner said he's seen the extra work pay off already, as he's gained needed weight and has begun to better assert himself on the floor.
"I've come a long way (offensively)," said Buckner, now with an average of 3.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. "I've gained around 35 pounds. I've gotten stronger. That's really the biggest change since high school. My shooting had to get a lot better. If I continue to work hard, it'll come. After every practice, I get a few shots up. I'm trying to get better."
And he's on the right track, according to Kennedy.
"Reggie's got the skill set to help us, and we need him to help us," he said. "He continues to get better and is going to grow with each and every opportunity to play."
Sultan of Swat
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