Hoops: Buckman Wants Two More Trophies

It took 15 years, but Texas F Brad Buckman bid farewell to the Erwin Center Sunday following his team's 72-48 pasting of Oklahoma. The senior's unofficial Longhorn debut came as the team's ballboy during the 1990-91 'Elite Eight' season, but now an "older", wiser Buckman has his eye on a larger prize.

Buckman and fellow senior Kenton Paulino hoisted the Big 12 Championship trophy to cap a 25-5 regular season (a new school record for most wins heading into the post-season) while tying its Big 12 record for most league wins at 13-3. Texas is the No. 1 seed heading into this weekend's Big 12 Conference Tournament, courtesy of its 85-60 shellacking of Kansas on February 25. (The league apologized to KU athletic officials Monday for not presenting the co-champion Jayhawks with a trophy following their weekend win over Kansas State.)

Buckman had his hand on one trophy last Sunday in Austin; he wants his hand on another this Sunday in Dallas. The Horns open post-season play when they face the Texas Tech/Kansas State winner at 11:30 a.m., Friday, at the American Airlines Center.

"There's three trophies that we want to get," Buckman said Tuesday. "This (Big 12 Tournament) is the second of the three we want to get."

The third and final piece of hardware is, of course, the ultimate prize for those who pound the hardwood. The 2006 National Championship is set for April 3 in Indianapolis, the biggest Monday in all of college basketball. Buckman tasted just enough of it to whet his appetite when, as freshman starter in 2002-03, the Horns reached the Final Four for the first time since 1946-47. Every day, on the way to and from practice, Buckman walks past the trophy cases and team photos displayed at the Cooley Pavilion commemorating the most recent Final Four run.

Buckman's teammates see it, too, and collectively make fun of his hair.

"My hair was long when I was a freshman and I looked like a shaggy kid," Buckman laughs. "The other guys make fun of me. They were like, 'What were you thinking your freshman year?' They were killing me because that hair was terrible. I don't know what I was thinking. But, coming from Westlake, guys there have shaggy hair."

More so than local stylists, Buckman contends that the program "has put some age into me." One of just two seniors on scholarship, Buckman has become the "old man" quicker than he could have imagined.

"It's gone by so fast, it's crazy," he reflected. "I feel older. My mind feels older. My body feels older. I wish I could rewind the clock and start over again."

Buckman turned back time just far enough to recall his stint as an Erwin Center ballboy during the BMW days of Lance Blanks, Travis Mays and Joey Wright. As to be expected, Buckman dreamed of wearing the Burnt Orange and now reflects on a collegiate career when so many of his dreams have come true.

"I see kids today who want my autograph, and I remember being those kids and looking up to (UT basketball players)," Buckman said. "I never expected to be here at all. God has blessed me ever since I was little. I took advantage of every opportunity I was given, and I think that's why I'm here today."

A high school McDonalds All-American, Buckman seriously considered signing with North Carolina and visited the hallowed halls where the likes of Michael Jordan once held court.

"It was basketball heaven," Buckman said. "They don't even think about football out there."

But Buckman was rich in Longhorn pedigree: his father Brent Buckman played alongside Longhorn legends Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite on two NCAA National Championship teams.

"I always said that I had North Carolina on my mind, but Texas in my heart," Buckman said.

And although he is an Austin native, the transition to the Forty Acres was no less challenging for Buckman than it is for any other incoming freshman.

"The campus was bigger than I thought it was," he said. "It was an eye-opening experience. My high school had just 2,000 people and sometimes (at Texas) there were 100 or 200 in a class."

Then there was head coach Rick Barnes' practice sessions.

"Aw, man. It was hell," Buckman told Inside Texas. "There was no comparison to my high school practices. It was three and one-half hours of intense workout. I was used to getting a water break every 30 minutes but we'd get one every two hours. But it only made you tougher and work that much harder and get better quicker. It obviously benefited me in the end."

The benefit came sooner than later, as Buckman logged his first start at No.1 Arizona just seven games into his freshman campaign. He would start 26 of the last 27 games at power forward, leading the teams in blocks (29) and FG percentage (.517).

"I just wanted to do what I had to do and I think I did pretty good," Buckman said. "We went to the Final Four (2003) and I had a chance to play there. It was a pretty special team. I just wanted to go out there and prove myself and put our name on the map."

The final word on Buckman's career has yet to be inscribed but it's a general consensus that the senior had a tendency to be awesome and awful -- in the same ballgame. Sometimes the toughest battle was the one he faced between the ears. (Two seasons ago, Buckman spoke in terms of being "down on myself", "thinking too much" and playing "with a weight on my shoulders." Barnes would bench Buckman for six games, as his FG percentage dipped to .384.) But, throughout his career, Buckman has also worn the "blue collar" label primarily because his style of play is hard-nosed and relentless. Buckman is a workhorse who has shared the hardwood with racehorses such as T.J. Ford and Daniel Gibson.

Buckman enters Friday's quarterfinal game ranked fourth in career blocked shots (158) in school history. He led his team in blocked shots in each of his first three seasons in Austin. This season he ranks second on the team in blocks (45), third in rebounding (7.2 rpg) and fourth in scoring (10.3 ppg). He has posted 1,057 career points, becoming the 26th player in the 100-year history of the program to join the 1,000-point club.

But with his final home game already in his rearview mirror, it's enough to make an "old" 22-year old consider his legacy.

"I'd like to, hopefully, tell my kids that I played here and we changed the program," Buckman concluded. "It's a great legacy. My dad has his golf legacy and I'll have my basketball legacy. That will be a good thing to talk about when I get older."

Especially if he can get just two more trophies.

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