University of Minnesota
Part of what fuels Kiara Buford's drive is an intense desire to win, something she experienced often at St. Paul Central High School. Or maybe it's an aversion to losing. Says Buford: "I hate to lose. Period."
Photos: courtesy University Athletics
Right at home
Junior Kiara Buford covers the basics on her way to the milestones
By Rick Moore
Kiara Buford takes a courtside seat in Williams Arena before a midweek practice and is immediately asked about an impending statistical milestone. She’s sitting at 984 career points, and if she tallies 16 points the following night against Purdue she’ll be the 20th Gopher to join the 1,000-point club.
Truth be told, she’ll be happy when that moment passes and she can focus on helping lead her young team to some more wins.
“I kind of didn’t want to know [about the milestone], because now I’m going to think about it,” smiles Buford, a junior guard who is averaging 15.2 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists per game for the 11-16 Gophers, who are trying to gain momentum heading into the Big Ten tournament. “It definitely is a great accomplishment and I’m looking forward to that, but more than anything, I look forward to getting a win.”
An epic high school career
Buford’s attachment to her sport predates her own recollections.
“Ever since I can remember, I’ve always had a basketball around,” she says. “There’s a picture of me—I was maybe 2 or 3—and I’m trying to shoot.” According to her mother, the ball would only travel a couple of inches, but Buford would celebrate by jumping up and down. She had found her sport, if not yet her shot.
In 2008 she wrapped up a legendary prep career at St. Paul Central High School. Her record there was a gaudy 115-12, including two state championships and a perfect 32-0 mark in her junior year.
“I don’t think that you really value it until you get older and you can look back on it,” she says of her success at Central. “It’ll always be something I remember, and I think it’s helped now to have that experience and know what it’s like to win.”
There was never much doubt where Buford would attend college.
“I wanted to stay in the Big Ten, and the University of Minnesota has a great program,” she says. “I grew up coming around here [and] I knew Pam [Borton], so I was comfortable with that. I always look forward to representing my hometown and doing great things and playing in front of my family.”
She came to the U as part of an all-Minnesotan freshman class that included teammates Jackie Voigt and Brianna and Nicole Mastey.
On the way to 1,000
In two and a half years at the U, her game has jelled and the statistics have followed. She played all 32 games in her freshman season, averaging 6.9 points per game and being named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. Last year she started every game, averaged 13.1 points per game, and was named All-Big Ten honorable mention.
This season she’s being looked to both as a scorer (she’s currently ninth in the Big Ten), and as a team leader. She takes that latter challenge seriously.
“I worked so hard at it this past year, throughout the summer and with our incoming freshmen,” she says. “I think that I have the communication skills and the things that come naturally to me to be a leader. … I think I’m doing a good job. [But] I can always get better, so it’s a work in progress.”
Buford says her on-court game is also a work in progress, and she focuses on the basics.
“It’s really weird because the older I get and the longer I play, it’s more of a fundamentals thing. You learn your fundamentals when you’re young, but I kind of took that in reverse,” she says. “I’ve been focusing on the very little things, such as keeping my dribble—backing out and dribbling instead of picking it up.”
The little things add up to a multidimensional player. Buford can play any of the perimeter positions, and seems equally comfortable shooting from the outside and driving the lane to create her own shots.
The points have followed. But for Buford, that’s not the point.
“I’m not a stats person at all,” she says. “I just try to do the best I can do, and whatever I can accomplish throughout that path is great.”
Update: Buford reached the 1,000-point mark Sunday in the Gophers’ 62-55 loss to Northwestern. Four minutes into the second half, she drove the length of the court, crossed over to her left and shot a short runner to reach the mark and give the Gophers a 34-33 lead. Earlier in the game, she connected for the 100th three-pointer of her career.