Buckman finds the key to more collegiate playing time
Three-point specialist Aaron Buckman has learned the easiest way to gain playing time in college basketball is to play solid defense.
Last year, Buckman, fresh out of South Tahoe High, received limited playing time for Monterey Peninsula College in Monterey, Calif. He quickly realized that deficiencies in speed and strength didn’t allow him to play defense like he did for Tom Orlich at South Tahoe.
He learned on the bench.
Instead of transferring to a college where defense isn’t an emphasis, Buckman has improved his speed and bulked up. Buckman’s coach, John Fusano, has noticed the 5-foot-10 guard’s development, rewarding him with a starting slot before a recent ankle sprain knocked him out of the lineup.
“Aaron has developed tremendously,” Fusano said. “His aggressiveness has developed, which just takes time when you up your level of play to junior college.
“When he first came here, he knew how to play the game and how to play hard, but he just needed to understand how hard he has to play at this level. He has developed the way you’d hope a sophomore would.”
The transition left Buckman doubting himself at first, but not anymore.
“I’m just getting used to this level now,” said Buckman, who has started 23 games and averaged 11.8 points per game for the 10-15 Lobos. “It’s a big step from high school. “I’ve got to get a lot stronger. Everyone is an athlete in this league. It’s not like in high school, where you have a couple of weak links. Out here everyone is the same talent.
“Most college coaches are going to see you play defense and not worry about offense until the defense is taken care of. That’s why I didn’t play a lot last year. I was a little slower and didn’t have the quickness that I have this year.”
What sets Buckman apart from most of his teammates and the opposition is his shooting range. A 20-foot shot is worth three points, but Buckman can venture out as far as 30 feet and feel comfortable about his chances of finding the bottom of the net.
“I have the same range; nothing’s changed,” said Buckman, who takes 10 to 15 shots per game. “I like to take one deep one a game, something fun, usually 26 to 27 feet out.”
The 3-pointers have been flowing effortlessly off Buckman’s fingertips this winter. Five rained in on West Los Angeles, as Buckman scored a career-high 24 points, then came five more against Foothill on a 19-point night, and his feathery touch sank five more against Feather River during a 20-point output.
“If I’m feeling it, coach won’t say anything,” Buckman said. “If there’s a minute left and the game is tied, he’ll probably tell me not to take it from that far. Usually you want to get the ball inside and try to get an easy basket in a close game.”
Fusano respects Buckman’s shooting and knows better than to challenge him to a game of horse.
“He’s a flat-out shooter,” Fusano said. “What’s improved is his defense, passing and all-out court awareness.”
For anyone out there wanting to emulate Buckman’s marksmanship, consider: On a normal day shooting around at practice or with friends, he casts between 200 and 300 shots. When Buckman shoots alone, that number climbs to a arm-dropping 1,000.
Buckman’s projected return to the lineup Friday night couldn’t come at a better time for Fusano and his Lobos. Monterey plays host to Central Coast Conference leader San Jose City, 8-0 in conference and 21-4 overall.
“They’re superaggressive and they do play a lot of zone,” Fusano said. “If they give Aaron an inch, he’ll take it to them from 23 feet. “
That special talent may extend Buckman’s playing career. All that matters to him is that it continue somewhere.
“Coach is looking and checking out some schools for me,” Buckman said. “If anything, it will be a NAIA school.”
The best advice he can give any player considering a college career is to hit the weights early.
“Make sure you start lifting and take it as seriously as possible,” he said.
You can wait like Buckman did, but it’ll probably end up costing you a starting job for at least a season.
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