Monday, January 14, 2013
Radford's Buckhannon lets her game do the talking
The Highlander doesn't say much, but the guard's versatile play speaks volumes.
Photo courtesy of Radford University
Radford guard Ashley Buckhannon, a graduate of George Wythe High School, leads the Highlanders in scoring (12.4 ppg) and assists (3.3 apg).
Photo courtesy of Radford University
Radford guard Ashley Buckhannon has started every game for the Highlanders since the beginning of the 2011-12 season.
RADFORD - After being named head women's basketball coach at Radford University in 2008, Tajama Ngongba didn't have to look far to pinpoint the initial target on her first recruiting class list.
Ngongba's personal diamond in the rough was located only 40 miles down I-81 in Wytheville, where Ashley Buckhannon was putting on a basketball clinic at George Wythe High.
"It didn't take long to see that Ashley could do a little bit of everything," Ngongba recalled. "She can shoot the 3 on the catch, she can shoot the 3 off the dribble, she can shoot the 3 on a stepback. She can get to the basket. She can up and under, she can spin, and she'll pull up on you with her midrange game. And then she can pass. She can do everything."
The 5-foot-9 Buckhannon was the 2008-09 Timesland Player of the Year, averaging 25.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.1 steals as a senior. She finished her high school career with 2,130 points.
"Ashley, being the local one, it was very important for us to get her," Ngongba noted.
The coach then burst into laughter.
"The thing with Ashley, through the recruiting process it was so difficult to get a feel of her because she's quiet," said Ngongba breaking into a smile. "You don't know if someone is just quiet or they're not feeling you. You just don't know. So we realized that she's just quiet. I think she might have said a paragraph in her freshman year.
"Don't worry, she'll talk to you. She's come out of her shell now."
Well, a little bit. In the final season of a stellar college career, Buckhannon would still rather do her talking on the court. Her immense contributions - she leads the Highlanders in minutes (31.5 per game), scoring (12.4) and assists (3.3), plus ranks second in steals (2.4) - have been key for a team that stands 8-6 overall and 3-2 in the Big South.
"We count on her," Ngongba said. "We put her at the point, we put her at the wing, post her up if we need to. I mean she can flat-out do it all!"
Radford has been a perfect fit for Buckhannon, who said she turned down an offer from Tennessee State and others.
"I'm kinda of a family girl so I tried to stay close to home," said Buckhannon, who averaged a career-high 14.7 points last season. "I just liked the environment here, the coaches and players when I came on my visit."
Coming to Radford also allowed her to meet Victoria Hamilton, a fellow senior guard from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
The two players have become almost inseperable since arriving on campus. They have been roommates since entering Radford in the fall of 2009, first in the dorms and now in an off-campus apartment.
"I was quiet, too, so we didn't communicate at first, especially when we in the dorms," said Hamilton, a starter who leads the Highlanders in rebounding (7.9). "We'd go days without talking but it wasn't like 'I'm mad at you!, it was just we were both quiet and didn't have anything to say.
"Now, I can spend all day with Ashley and just have fun."
Unable to go home for Christmas, Hamilton accepted Buckhannon's offer to spend the holidays with her family in Wytheville.
"I was there for five days,'' Hamilton said. "They even got me Christmas gifts and everything! It was nice, it was pretty cool!
"We talk about living with each other after we're graduated and just traveling the world and stuff. She's never really traveled anywhere so. The Virgin Islands will be the first stop."
Mere mention of the trip to the islands makes Buckhannon smile and respond.
"I'm looking forward to going," she said. "I've heard about it and seen some pictures, but it's time to actually get my feet in the sand!"
Ngongba, who has one of the most outgoing personalities you'll ever find in a college coach, said Buckhannon and Hamilton are the top pranksters on the team. She calls Hamilton "Peanut Butter" and Buckhannon "Jelly."
"Victoria, people don't think she's as crazy as she is, so she's my peanut butter, a little nutty!" Ngongba said. "Then Ashley is the jelly. She's sweet, everybody thinks she's so sweet. But, oh, Ashley can be just as mean as you want to get on that court."
"Those two are always up to something. And they're deceiving! They're thick as thieves, I'm telling you."
The duo's pranks usually come on road trips. Buckhannon was quite verbose on that subject.
"We sit around the apartment and think about it and then we just go do it," Buckhannon said. "We always have something up our sleeve. Our sophomore year we Saran-wrapped one of the senior's cars. It took two boxes. But they came from the Dollar Store, so it was cheap!
"And coach ... we like hiding out and jumping out and attacking her when she gets off the bus on the road. Nothing harmful. Just something to give her a life."
Ngongba said the stories are almost endless.
"It's so nice to see good friends like that. You may be cordial, you may hang out with teammates, but it's very rare when your best friend is your teammate. That's just rare."
Hamilton said Buckhannon's incredible drive and determination on the court have rubbed off on her and made her a better player.
"Ashley is just one of those fearless players ... like she believes she's the best player on the court and nobody can stop her," Hamilton said. "That's how she plays, and we've been seeing the way she plays. I love playing with her. She's fearless, tough. She brings the best out in everybody."
Ngongba, the most prolific scorer in George Washington University history (1994-97), said Buckhannon's game is like a smorgasboard. There's a little bit of everything a coach craves.
The coach then started acting like she was crying.
"Oh, my goodness,'' she said. "I'm going to miss that girl."