Until this winter, Ohio High magazine had prided itself on always
naming one athlete as the state player of the year in each
But, our editorial staff learned when it came time to select this
year’s boys basketball player of the year, sometimes there must be
exceptions to the rule.
Until this winter, Ohio High magazine had prided itself on always naming one athlete as the state player of the year in each OHSAA-sanctioned sport.
But, our editorial staff learned when it came time to select this year’s boys basketball player of the year, sometimes there must be exceptions to the rule.
Accordingly, we have decided to name Toledo Libbey’s William Buford and Canal Winchester’s B.J. Mullens as co-winners of the Huntington Bank/Ohio High Magazine Boys Basketball Player of the Year award.
Buford and Mullens have each signed with Ohio State and will be teammates with the Buckeyes next season. They each played in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Milwaukee in March with Mullens tallying 12 points and Buford scoring six. They were set to play together in the Jordan Brand Classic April 19 at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
They join the list of past winners of the award which include Lima Shawnee’s Jamar Butler (2004), North College Hill’s O.J. Mayo (2005-06) and Upper Sandusky’s Jon Diebler (2007).
Below are profiles on this year’s co-winners.
Mr. Basketball Buford Guided Toledo Libbey To State Title Game
Buford knew the hard work would pay off some day. He knew that his prep team, Toledo Libbey, could win and win big, and that individual kudos would come with that winning.
He just never knew that the four-day stretch of March 12-15 would be so dramatic or so momentous in his life.
A silky smooth 6-5 wing who signed with Ohio State back in November, Buford played like the co-headliner of that four-man class throughout his senior season. He matched fellow signee Mullens accomplishment for accomplishment, big basket for big basket, and then, very late in the season he one-upped him.
While the 7-1 Mullens and Canal Winchester had their season end in the Division II regional playoffs with a loss to St. Paris Graham, Buford led the Cowboys directly over the regional hump that had stonewalled them in previous years.
On his way down to Columbus with his team as they headed off to the state final four, Buford found out from a reporter that he had just been named by The Associated Press as the winner of the coveted Mr. Basketball award that signifies the top player in the state.
The honor immediately cast Buford, Libbey’s all-time leading scorer, in elite company along with past winners such as Mayo, LeBron James and fellow Toledo product Jim Jackson, his idol.
“Man, that’s crazy,” he said and then repeated. “How do I feel? I can’t even explain it. That’s crazy.”
Buford edged out his future teammate Mullens in the voting. Other top candidates included 6-9 power forward Yancy Gates of Cincinnati Withrow, 7-0 center Kenny Frease of Massillon Perry and 5-10 point guard Anthony Hitchens of Chillicothe.
“It’s such an accomplishment, being the best player in Ohio,” he said. “I don’t know what put it over the top – maybe that we’re still playing. It’s a guess because I don’t know how they voted. I really don’t care too much because now I got it.”
Buford and Mullens figured to be neck-and-neck for the award given their fantastic senior seasons and already well-earned national reputations as topflight recruits.
Mullens ranked No. 6 nationally in the Class of 2008 according to the ESPN 150; Buford was just behind at No. 11.
Buford averaged 22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists a game during the regular season while collecting his third consecutive Toledo City League player of the year award from The Toledo Blade. He shot 62 percent from the field, 46 percent from three-point range and 77 percent at the free-throw line.
Earlier in the week, Buford and Mullens were named co-Division II players of the year. They were on a collision course to face each other in the state semifinals in Columbus until Canal was derailed.
“For William, the opportunity to get to the Schott and you’re 64 minutes away from a state championship, I couldn’t be happier for him,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said heading into the week. “We like those guys who come from winning programs and hopefully he’ll come down here and have a great tournament.”
Despite being a newly marked man, Buford did just that. He posted game highs of 21 points and 10 rebounds in a very unselfish performance against Graham as Libbey won the first Division II semi, 51-44. The Cowboys ended Graham’s previously unbeaten season and set themselves up for a date with Hitchens and Chillicothe in he Division II state final March 15.
Buford and classmates Julius Wells and Brad Sandridge vowed before the season that they would make winning the state title their destiny. They came up one basket short, though, as Hitchens zipped through traffic and dished to Ray Chambers for a layup just before the final buzzer as Chillicothe won one of the most memorable games in the history of the tournament, 70-69.
Libbey had reached just one other state final in school history, losing to Dayton Chaminade-Julienne in 1966. Coming up a hair short of the goal seemed like a cruel outcome to a competitor like Buford.
“I don’t like second place; nobody remembers second place,” he told a handful of reporters afterward.
Hitchens and Chambers celebrated their heroic stats after scoring 24 and 23 points, respectively. Buford, though, was not outshone. He produced a game-high 29 points and added six rebounds and five assists and set up what appeared at the time to be the winning play as he drew defenders and passed to Wells, who was fouled with 5.1 seconds to play.
Libbey ended its fantastic season at 24-3 and Buford, who carries a cumulative grade-point average of 3.2, ended his career with 2,059 points. Jackson, the former Toledo Macomber and Ohio State super star, is the Toledo City League’s all-time leading scorer with 2,328 points and Buford’s total ranks second.
Buford averaged 28.4 points per game as a junior but took fewer shots this past season with the intent of getting everyone else involved.
“I feel like I’m doing real good with that this season,” he said. “I’m just trying to be much more of a leader. I’ve been working on distributing the ball more, playing better defense. It’s paid off.”
Libbey coach Leroy Bates is among the impressed.
“What I’m going to miss the most after he’s gone is his work ethic and the example he’s set for the rest of the kids,” the coach said. “In these four years I don’t think he’s missed one practice. And he makes the players around him better. William is just smooth. He’s a proficient scorer, and it’s not likes he’s taking 20 shots a game.”
Still, there’s no doubt he can light it up when needed. Sinewy yet strong, quick yet fluid, Buford can do it all with the ball in his hands and can score from anywhere on the hardwood.
“William is a very gifted offensive player, can score in a variety of ways, can shoot the ball, can handle the ball, drives it and has a step-back (shot),” Matta said when Buford signed with OSU in November. “It’s good because of his size. He’s 6-5, long, just really has a great scorer’s mind. He’s very productive.”
Mullens Head And Shoulders Above The Rest In Ohio
Mullens’ story has been told many times: He committed to Ohio State in October 2004, prior to his freshman season at Canal Winchester World Harvest Prep. He played two seasons at World Harvest before transferring to Canal Winchester for his junior and senior years.
In just two years with the Indians, Mullens set the school’s career scoring record with 1,868 points. As a junior, he averaged 26.4 points, 14.1 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per game. This year, he averaged 27.6 points, 15.3 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per contest in leading Canal Winchester to a 21-3 season and a Division II district championship.
“It was a great season,” Mullens said. “We came up short of our goal. We didn’t make it as far as we wanted to go. But we came along and had a great experience.”
In terms of improvement, Mullens boosted his field goal percentage from 60 percent as a junior to 71 percent as a senior.
“My shooting percentage improved,” he said. “I think I did a better job with my shot selection and decisionmaking on the floor. I worked on posting up deeper and not leaking out as much so I would have a harder shot.”
Of course, it helped that Mullens was 28 of 34 from the floor in a 62-point outburst in a game against Centereach (N.Y.) Our Savior New American. The point total represents a new Canal Winchester single-game school record. In that Jan. 22 game played at the Flyin’ to the Hoop event in Kettering, Ohio, Mullens also had 21 rebounds in a 79-69 win. He had 36 of his team’s 38 points in the first half.
“I have to thank my teammates for that game,” Mullens said. “They did a good job of breaking the pressure. They were playing us man-to-man. My teammates saw that and they knew we had to go here to get the W and go home. I had unselfish teammates who knew what we had to do.”
It was a regular occurrence for Mullens to be double- and triple-teamed by opposing teams – lest they leave an open path to the basket and get dunked upon. In most cases, Mullens just took the extra attention in stride.
“I knew I was going to be going against a lot of double- and triple-teams,” said Mullens, who was named first-team All-USA and as a first-team Parade All-American. “I needed my teammates to step up and hit their shots. If they weren’t hitting, I knew they’d keep triple-teaming me.”
It was two years ago this spring when Mullens showed up at Canal Winchester after the transfer from World Harvest. Longtime CWHS coach Kent Riggs and his staff saw that Mullens’ academic profile needed help. They went to work with him – both on and off the floor.
“I think he’s obviously matured quite a bit, as all our kids do,” Riggs said. “People look at B.J. and see a 7-1, 260-pound man and really he is just a high school student. He has those high expectations on and off the court. But I am proud of his academic work and the way he carries himself here at school.”
Mullens spent his spring and summer on the AAU and camp circuit. He participated in events with the adidas Nation program as well. One web site declared that Mullens, because of his size and skill, was the early favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft. But through it all, Riggs has been glad to see that Mullens has kept the acclaim in perspective.
“You always worry about kids when everybody in the public tells them how good they are and what’s ahead of them,” Riggs said. “But he is here every day and acts like any other student. That’s hard when you have been exposed to some of the things he has been exposed to. He has tried to be a normal high school walking around the halls, but that can be hard when people come up to you once in a while and ask for an autograph.”
Riggs reflected on his team’s season.
“We had a great year and one bad night,” he said. “But that’s the beauty of the tournament. That’s why people like it. It’s one (loss) and you’re out. It makes it very interesting. Graham had a very good team. I like to think that if we played our best game the outcome would have been different.
“What I liked about our kids was they had fun playing together. They enjoyed each other. The disappointment has started to fade and as you look back we had a pretty good year. Not everybody wins a district championship or two league titles back to back.”
The next stop for Mullens will be Ohio State, where he could be the latest big man to go one-and-done before heading off to the NBA.
“Since I first committed to Ohio State three years ago, I have always been a Buckeye,” Mullens said. “I am proud to be a Buckeye.”
He and Buford will be joined in the incoming class by guards Anthony Crater and Walter Offutt. All four of them have been considered national top-100 prospects at points in their career.
“I have played with all of them before,” he said. “Crater is a great point guard. He is really unselfish. Walter is a leader. He is also a strong shooter. William is just an all around basketball player. It is a great class coming in. I am excited about it.
“I can’t wait. I am enrolling this summer to get in there for conditioning and open gyms. I have talked to Evan (Turner) about it a lot. He said we’re going to have a great time.”
Mullens talked about areas where he needs to continue to improve.
“I know I need to work on my strength and conditioning,” he said. “I have been playing against college guys ever since I committed. I have a good feel for their strength and they are strong. That is the next level.
“I think I am ready for the college level. I know Coach Matta will get me in shape for what he wants me to do.”