While Clemson certainly isn’t known for being a basketball power, they have had their share of legendary players come through the program. One of those players is Greg Buckner, one of the best to ever step foot on the court in Littlejohn Coliseum.
Buckner will be one of many former players participating in the Celebrity Golf Tournament at the Walker Course on Clemson University’s campus on Monday, August 17. It is a benefit to help another Clemson great, Sharone Wright. They are trying to raise money for some of Wright’s medical bills, which have become astronomical due to many health issues that he’s had over recent years.
During Buckner’s time with the Tigers he started all 122 games of his career, while guiding his team to three NCAA Tournament bids. He led Clemson in scoring in all of his four season’s, becoming the first Tiger to do so. He was the ACC Rookie of the Year winner in 1995, and was entered into the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.
Over Buckner’s four years at Clemson he averaged 14.4 points a game, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. What many most remember him for though was a game against the North Carolina in the 1996 ACC Tournament that saw him dunk the ball with 0.6 seconds remaining to get sixth seeded Clemson the win.
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Buckner, still one of my all-time favorite Clemson Basketball players and ask him a few questions about his time in Tigertown, as well as what he has going on now.
Clemson Junkies: Why did you choose to attend Clemson, was there something that stuck out at you?
Buckner: “There were several things that worked in my favor for me to end up in Clemson. It wasn’t my original choice, if you know my history, but one of the things I’ll go back to even as a kid, you know, one of the earliest things I remember about sports and journalists watching a Clemson football game was a rainy game. I was probably four or five years old in my grandmother’s house and was watching this game in a big storm and it showed the tiger paws walking into Clemson.”
“I was like, you know, as a kid, like, that’s amazing. They got Tiger paws on the ground. You know, I obviously didn’t know what school it was. So it was like, wow. And then one of my best friends who I grew up with played at Clemson, Chris Whitney. He is five years older than me and we grew up right across the street. So he was one of my mentors. He looked out for me and I played with him and he got me entrenched with basketball.”
“He showed me how to do things the right way. So he was a tiger, so always was a fan because of him but I actually signed with Providence when Coach Barnes was at Providence his last year there. I signed with him in October and when he got the Clemson job, you know, Coach Pete Gillian got the Providence job and he didn’t know much about me or recruit me and he wanted to get his own guys.”
“You know, he’d just started, so he let me out of my scholarship and as soon as he did I signed with Clemson without a physical or anything. It was one of those things I was glad to be with Coach Barnes, Coach Felton, and Coach Shyatt. I get down to Clemson and I kind of knew a little bit about Clemson because of Chris Whitney growing up there and it was a match made in heaven. The rest is history as they say.”
Clemson Junkies: What was your most memorable basketball game while playing for the Tigers?
Buckner: “Obviously most people would probably say the dunk, and I mean, that’s true. I think that’s the average Clemson person. For me, the first game of my career and the last game. Those are the two most memorable experiences of my time at Clemson.”
“Obviously, putting on a college uniform for us, you know, is a lifelong dream. To play Division-1 ball. I grew up in Kentucky. I either wanted to play for Kentucky, Louisville, or play in the ACC and I got to play in the ACC growing up. So, that was unbelievable. Then in my last game, all of my family’s there and I think that’s the time when I scored the most points, in my last home game. It was one of those days and I think it was Florida State, if i remember correctly.”
“Then playing with Terrell McIntyre for the last time on that court who was, you know, my back court mate and we pushed each other to be great. I remember him coming up to me after I made the first free throw and missed the second one. He gave me a tap and a big hug. It was one of the most memorable things that ever happened to me to be able to play with a guy like Terrell McIntyre and finish with him.”
Clemson Junkies: What are you up to these days?
Buckner: “I’ve been coaching in the NBA for the last seven years and within the last 10 years I’ve been going back and forth between TV and coaching. Right now though, I have a couple of jobs lined up. One’s in college and one’s in the NBA. Right now I’m just trying to weigh out my options to see which was a gift going back so I’ll go back into coaching this coming season.“
Clemson Junkies: Is there anything you would do differently if you had to do it over, if you had anything to do again?
Greg: “Yeah, I think what I would, you know, try to be a better leader. A vocal leader for my guys. I think we had a lot of talent. I think Coach Barnes was changing cultures. Unfortunately, he took it to Texas, but he was changing the culture you know. He was getting the type of guys in that I felt like, you know, with a better leader or me being a better leader we could have probably won a national championship.”
“I mean we were ranked number one or two, depending on which poll you looked at, in my time at Clemson. I think we were the highest ranked team in Clemson history, and then we kind of let the ball drop. We got the big head. We weren’t used to being the best or at a high level of Clemson basketball and it got to all of us.”
“I mean, Coach Barnes was getting interviews out the a**, we were getting interviews out of the a**, and we didn’t take advantage of it. So, we let a great opportunity slip through our fingers and at the time Duke was down. I mean, Carolina was young during the first quarter of Antoine Jamison’s career there and they were young puppies at the time. Tim Duncan was a senior but they weren’t very deep as some of their great teams in the past and we had opportunity to be great and we let it slip through our fingers.“
Clemson Junkies: You said earlier that one of your dreams was to play in the ACC and you got to do that. Which team did you enjoy playing most against while you were at Clemson?
Buckner: “Well, obviously I grew up being a Carolina fan, North Carolina (not South Carolina), because of Jordan and, you know, that great, rich history of great players coming out of there. So playing against North Carolina was great because, you know, when I was there we got to win some games against Carolina. We got to win some games against Duke.”
“Those two schools were the cream of the crop and we loved playing against those teams but I loved playing in McReynolds Arena at NC State and playing at that uh, I can’t remember the name, of the arena in Virginia. So, those two places I enjoyed the most. Carolina and Duke though? You can’t go wrong with any of them.”
Clemson Junkies: Is there any advice you would give to young players coming up in college?
Buckner: “You know one of the things I would tell people would be, well, there are several things. Obviously, you know everybody thinks their going to be a pro but we all know that’s not the case. It takes a lot. So, you know, don’t waste time. Hone in on your craft. Take it serious while you’re there. Enjoy every minute of playing basketball and understand that you better work at it. Be selfless and try to win as many championships as possible.”
“People remember great, great teams that win championships. Whether it’s conference championships or obviously, national championships. Those guys are remembered as legends. Understand how important education is. I don’t think we, as athletes when we‘re in college, really understand and I don’t think people push that to the athletes around. I think coaches do. I think, obviously, their academic advisors do.”
“I don’t think family members and friends tell athletes how important it is to be a scholar and an athlete because, like the youth I coach now, we had a discussion over it and I was telling them today actually, you know, they can’t take your mind away. Your body is going break down.”
“We all get old but your mind stays sharp much longer than your body can handle the physical activity. Plus, you gotta have fun. A lot of coaches kind of take the fun out of college. I mean, I wish I could go back to college every day. College is an unbelievable time in your life and before you know it, it’s over with. So you got to enjoy it and have fun with it as well.“
Clemson Junkies: If I asked you the same question but instead of athletes it would be in reference to fans. What kind of advice would you give fans?
Buckner: “Stay CRAZY! That’s the thing about sports as a whole is their enjoyment. Yeah, so stay crazy and give athletes h*** if they are against you and support them and praise them if you are for them. Just be yourself and continue to be same old wild fans. Some fans it’s almost like a hatred and we love that.”
Clemson Junkies: How did your time at Clemson prepare you for life after college and after athletics?
Buckner: “Oh man, it was crazy. I mean, when I went to Clemson I was 17 years old. When I got there I thought I knew everything. I thought I was the man. Which I was in high school. I didn’t know it all, obviously, but I was a man in high school then I get to college and if it wasn’t for Coach Barnes, Coach Shyatt, Coach Felton, Bill D’Andrea who was the head of the academics at Vickory Hall, I mean, those guys really helped me become a man and they did very quickly.”
“They understood that, you know, going back to your hometown and once you got out and what you left at home is not where you want to be so they helped me become the man I am, the father I am, the husband I am. Because of the way they took such great interest in me and life after basketball.”
“They used to mess with me all of the time because when I went to Clemson I wanted to be a nurse, and obviously you have to do clinical’s and all of that. So they would be giving me a hard time and telling me that I can’t be a nurse and I wasn’t going pro, so I had to get this other stuff together. They thought me that basketball isn’t going to be here forever and you have to become something great outside of basketball.”
Clemson Junkies: Did you have any superstitions or rituals before games?
Buckner: “Not in college but in the NBA I did. I would never do the same thing that I did the game before as a pregame ritual. I would always change it up so I’d be predictably unpredictable.”
Clemson Junkies: How would you like Clemson fans to remember you? What do you want them to remember you for or remember about you?”
Buckner: “Oh, Boy. You know, I would want them to remember me as the story hasn’t been written. Or the ending hasn’t been written. Because I want them to remember me as coming back and winning three or four national championships in basketball as the head coach and getting the same parades as the football team, and when it is all said and done, Clemson is a powerhouse basketball school as well as a football school. Because of something that I brought to the table for Clemson University in basketball. That’s how I’d want to be remembered.”