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Greg Buckner goes from underappreciated to KHSAA Hall of Fame

January 29, 2020 FieldsColumn

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UHA alum Greg Buckner went on to play college basketball at Clemson, and in the NBA for 10 years. (Getty Images)

BY MIKE FIELDS (Jan. 29, 2020)

Who is the most underappreciated Kentucky high school basketball star of the last 30 years?

I’d go with a guy who as a sophomore helped his team win a state title, and as a senior averaged 21 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and got back to the Sweet Sixteen; who went on to start 122 consecutive college games for a Power Five conference school; and who played in the NBA for 10 years and served as an assistant coach for two NBA teams.

I’d go with Greg Buckner.

Buckner didn’t get the recognition he deserved from his home-state fans when he was in high school (or thereafter) because he played at University Heights Academy.

But he’s getting his just dues now. Buckner will be inducted into the Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of Fame this spring.

To say he appreciates the honor would be an understatement.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Memphis. “People can dig into my background and see where I came from. We had nothing. I slept on a couch with my two brothers, and mice slept with us, too.

“Playing basketball in high school, I didn’t even know about the KHSAA Hall of Fame. I just wanted to play ball and have fun. And then years later somebody calls and says I’m in the Hall of Fame. I thought it was my brother Andre playing a joke on me. I can’t believe it. It’s surreal.”

A few years before Buckner enrolled at UHA, the small private school in Hopkinsville got in trouble with the KHSAA for recruiting violations and was banned from the 1988 postseason. It was put on probation in 1991 because its coach, Tommy Wade, did not have a teaching certificate.

The transgressions stained the Blazers’ program for years.

“There were some things that transpired before (Greg) and I got there,” said Jeff Jackson, who took over as UHA’s coach for the 1991-92 season. “We had to learn to deal with them in the right way. We never dwelled on them. We just went out and played and tried to do the best we could.

Greg Buckner
(Getty Images)

“I know Greg did that. He felt good about who he was and what he did.”

Marty Cline and Darren Allaway were senior standouts on UHA’s 1992 state championship team. Buckner, a sophomore, was a key contributor off the bench as the Blazers battled their way through the Sweet Sixteen. They beat Mason County, Pleasure Ridge Park and Owensboro before taking down Lexington Catholic in the title game.

Buckner said the fact that “the whole state of Kentucky hated us” didn’t affect them.

“We were just trying to have fun, enjoy life and play as much basketball before our six seniors walked out the door,” he said. “It was an amazing feeling when we won.”

The 6-foot-4 Buckner led UHA back to the Sweet Sixteen his senior year. (In the 2nd Region finals, he had 37 points and the game-winning basket in a 71-70 victory over Henderson County.) The Blazers lost to Muhlenberg North in the first round of the state tournament.

Despite his accomplishments, Buckner wasn’t surprised he didn’t win Mr. Basketball honors.

Elton Scott, who had helped Marion County to the state title as a junior, was selected as the state’s top player. Tony Pietrowski of Corbin was second in the voting. Buckner was third.

“I for sure took that as a slight,” Buckner said. “I knew going into that year I couldn’t be Mr. Basketball because of the school I went to.”

Buckner used that as motivation when it came time for the Kentucky-Indiana All-Star series that summer.

“From the tryouts to the training camp to the two games against Indiana, I had something to prove,” he said. “I had a chip on my shoulder. I had to let them boys know, and the state of Kentucky know, that just because I went to University Heights, some adults made some mistakes, and they shouldn’t have punished a kid.”

Pietrowski, who has been the coach at Corbin the last 19 years, recalled recognizing Buckner’s superior talent in high school.

“I can remember my dad calling me after the third or fourth day of (all-star) practice and asking how things were going,” Pietrowski said. “It was pretty much hands down that Greg was the best player there. Me and Elton were the top-ranked players in the state, but Greg stood out as the lead man. You could tell he was a special player and it was pretty cool to be playing with him.”

Buckner was the stick-out star in both games against the Indiana All-Stars. In the opener in Freedom Hall, he had 28 points in a 91-87 loss. In the rematch in Market Square Arena, he had 19 points, including a 12-foot jumper with six seconds left that gave Kentucky a 75-73 victory.

Buckner committed to play college ball at Providence, but when coach Rick Barnes left the Friars for Clemson, Buckner followed him.

It proved to be a wise decision.

Greg Buckner started 122 consecutive games at Clemson. (Clemson photo)

Buckner was named the ACC’s top freshman and went on to start all 122 games at Clemson. He averaged 14.4 points and 5 rebounds in his career and helped the Tigers to three NCAA Tournament appearances.

He was inducted into the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.

(And, yes, Buckner was thrilled when the Tigers recently beat ACC rivals North Carolina and Duke back-to-back. “It was an amazing feeling,” he said, “especially after LSU slapped us around on the football field.”)

Buckner was taken by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the NBA draft, and thanks in large part to his ability to defend, he stayed in the league for a decade. Besides the Mavs, he played for the 76ers, Nuggets, Timberwolves, and Grizzlies. He finished his pro career with almost 3,000 points, 1,600 rebounds, and 700 assists.

After stints on the Rockets’ and Grizzlies’ coaching staffs, Buckner transitioned to working for FOX’s NBA coverage. He does pre- and post-game shows for the Mavs, Pelicans and Thunder.

Buckner and his wife Regina have five children — daughters Aziah (who has signed to play volleyball at San Diego State), Paris, Addison, and Abigail; and son Greg (nicknamed Ace).

“Greg is a smart young man, and a great husband and father,” Jackson said. “And he was a great, great player. He’s very, very deserving of any recognition he gets. I’m really proud of him.”

Even though he has accomplished so much since his high school glory days, Buckner still has a special place in his heart for UHA.

“I wouldn’t be the person I am now without the teachers, coaches, friends and other parents that helped me there,” he said. “They made sure you had a life after basketball.

“And now, to be the only one from UHA to be in the (Dawahares/KHSAA) Hall of Fame, I’m ecstatic.”

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