Buckman's ride back to the future
Brad Buckman dropped into a chair in the lounge just outside of the locker room following an energetic workout courtesy of University of Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes.
Buckman admitted there was no part of his body that wasn't sore after the rigorous practice that hardly came as a surprise to him. After all, he has endured such for three years.
Does Buckman feel like a senior?
"My body does," he said, laughing.
It's the laugh that makes all Longhorns' faithful realize the Buckman they knew and loved as a freshman is alive and well, albeit in an older body.
And while he eschews the premise, there seems little doubt that Buckman is the face of the 2005-06 Longhorns, who are placed among the NCAA men's elite by the pundits and are expected to be playing into April.
"There are so many different faces of this team because there are so many good players on this team," Buckman begins. "There's no way I should be 'The Face' of the team. And if people feel that way, it is only because I have been around here so long.
"They might be saying, 'He's still here? He's been here forever.'"
Close. Buckman has played in 96 of a possible 97 games during his first three years at UT.
He enters this campaign fifth all-time in blocked shots, which is quite a distinction for the 6-foot-8 power forward. He also enters the season wanting to write a successful conclusion to a career that he admits, "has had its ups and downs."
The "ups" came when he arrived on campus as a McDonald's All-American after a sterling career at Austin's Westlake High School.
He did not disappoint, leading UT in blocks and ranking second in rebounding despite playing only 16 minutes per game in his freshman year. Buckman started 26 of the last 27 games that season, contributing in the Longhorns' drive to the NCAA Final Four in 2002-03.
"Getting to go to the Final Four as the youngest guy on the team and being part of the success of that team was incredible," he said.
All believed the best was yet to come for Buckman -- especially him.
Enter the sophomore jinx.
Buckman shakes his head. He does not disagree with the characterization. He wishes, however, that he could.
"There is a sophomore slump when you allow it to come into play…and I did," he said. "I had a good freshman year and I thought it would come a lot easier my sophomore year. I didn't figure that I had to improve.
"I sat back and watched."
Buckman watched his field-goal percentage drop (51.7 to 38.4), his free-throw percentage drop (75.6 to 71.3), and his rebounding average drop (5.3 to 4.5) during his second season.
"I thought it was everybody's fault but mine," he said. "It was Coach. It was this and it was that. I acted as though it was everything or everybody except who I knew it was. Me."
Buckman also knew why.
"I stopped working," he said. "I stopped staying after practice to shoot. I stopped getting on the floor early. I just stopped working."
Buckman credited his mom and his dad - Tammy and Brent, who teamed with Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite on UT's NCAA golf title squads in 1971-72 - with helping him come around to realize the person responsible for his sophomore slump was the guy he saw in the mirror each morning.
"It's easier to blame someone else," Buckman said. "But, I knew I had to fess up to my mistakes. It was a learning experience."
Judging by his performance last season, Buckman learned his lessons well.
"When we lost LaMarcus (Aldridge) and P.J. (Tucker), I knew the team needed me to step up," Buckman said. "Coach needed me to be someone special. I needed to be the player I was supposed to be after my freshman year."
Buckman was enough of a player to earn a spot on the Big 12 All-Underrated Team, as well as the Big 12's Most Improved Player.
And although they don't give this award, Buckman is a candidate for All-Mature.
"The clock is running out on my time at Texas," he said. "I want to continue to play basketball at the next level, which means I have to work on every part of my game."
Today, he reminds the young players about going to the Final Four when he was a freshman. He reminds them about working hard, as he reminds himself.
Asked what he would like people to say about him when they sit and talk of the UT basketball from days past: "I want them to say Brad Buckman did it on the court. He gave 110 percent…always."