It was another remarkable season for basketball at Buford, which captured the boys and girls championships in the same year for the second in three years. The boys won it all in 2017, the girls in 2017 and 2018. And they came about this championship in different ways.
The Buford boys had a senior-laden team – 11 in all – and coach Eddie Martin had his own questions about whether that many type-A personalities could coexist. The Buford girls had the opposite problems; they graduated ten seniors and few people, other than coach Gene Durden and those in the green jerseys thought they had a chance.
The Buford boys ended all the doubts with a 76-69 win over Fayette County in the final. The Buford girls turned back previously unbeaten Villa Rica 67-59.
“They’re all special,” Martin said. “None more special than others because it’s with a different group of kids every year. This group right here, we had 11 seniors. I’ve never had 11 seniors and I was scared to death there would be conflicts. But they bought in, they’ve kept their friendships like it needed to be. It’s huge because they’re all such good kids. They love each other, love being together. To know these 11 guys are going out as state champions is special.”
The guy holding the trophy for the longest time after the game was senior Marcus Watson. He finished his career by scoring 33 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He had two thunderous dunks in the first half and made four 3-pointers, rarely drawing much iron. He is no doubt ready to take the next step at Oklahoma State and could become the next of Martin’s line of all-state players (Malcolm Brogdon, Jodie Meeks, etc.) to reach the NBA.
The girls did it without a true all-state player. When Tory Ozment graduated, the Wolves were left with a team that was greater than the sum of its parts. Individually, Buford wasn’t much to look at. But once everyone bought into the Tasmanian Devil all-out approach, the Wolves were an unstoppable force.
“It’s been a team effort all year,” Durden said. “Our quote this year has been, ‘The team is our superstar.’ Nobody gave us a chance to be back here, but these kids fought all season.”
Buford won by sending wave after relentless wave of defenders to attack the opposition, breaking their flow, causing confusion and sowing seeds of distress. Opponents often survived for a quarter or two, but few were able to withstand 32 minutes of such a barrage.
“They wear down physically and mentally,” Durden said. “In the last three games we’ve forced about 30 turnovers a game.” They forced 29 against Villa Rica in the final.
Both teams came into the state tournament having played an aggressive schedule. The boys lost only to a nationally ranked team from North Carolina in the Arby’s Classic tournament at Christmas and to Loganville in one of the biggest upsets of the season. The girls lost only to Westlake, which played for the Class AAAAAAA championship on Saturday, and Norcross, which reached the AAAAAAA quarterfinals.
“The key has been how our kids are battle-tested from the schedule we played this year,” Durden said. “We have played the best in the state of Georgia, all classifications. We didn’t care about wins and losses, we didn’t care about being undefeated. All we care about was getting ready for these games. We talked about it at halftime (of the Villa Rica game, where they trailed 33-29), they knew we’d been in these situations and they responded.”
It was quite a year personally for the two winning coaches. Both earned their 800th career victories during the season. It was the ninth state championship for Martin, his second at Buford, and the seventh for Durden, all with the Wolves.
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