Here's an article I wrote for my news reporting class last year on Kiara Buford, before she started her senior season at Central. How time flies...
The high school girls basketball season has yet to start, but the University of Minnesota is already banking on a top player who has yet to complete her senior year.
Kiara Buford, 18, has played in the state tournament every year for Central High School in St. Paul and can play at the point guard, shooting guard and post positions. She was a contributing factor for last year’s Central girls basketball team that won the class AAAA state championship while setting an all-time record for most wins in a single season, finishing with a 32-0 record.
While Buford averaged only 12.3 points per game last season, down from 20.8 points per game in her sophomore season, people close to her said her skills outweigh the numbers.
“She can be as good as any player in the country at her position,” said Willie Taylor, head coach of the Central girls basketball team.
“She can dribble down the court and score. She’s also really good at being part of a team,” said Megan Howard, Buford’s teammate since eighth grade.
The University of Minnesota appears to agree with those remarks. Buford signed her letter of intent to play for the women’s basketball team Wednesday and verbally committed to play as a Golden Gopher her junior year.
“It’s close to home and I can play for the people that I grew up playing for,” Buford said.
Buford is also excited that she will don the maroon and gold with former Central teammate Ashley Ellis-Milan, as Buford said both she and Ellis-Milan are good friends.
Buford will be the third Central graduate in the school’s history to play at Minnesota, a list that features Monica Brown and Ellis-Milan.
Taylor is thrilled that Buford will be playing close to her high school.
“I can tell people ‘You know what, look at all the Central players at the U,’” Taylor said.
Her parents and extended relatives are also happy; they come to watch Buford play almost every game.
“She’s always been a leader. Just to see her grow so much in that role and really work hard to push herself is amazing, both on the court and academically,” said Tracy Buford, her mother.
Tracy can speak from more than a parent’s perspective; she played high school basketball at Highland Park Senior High School in St. Paul and continued at Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa.
“Everything that she has been able to accomplish just gives me so much pride to watch her play,” Tracy Buford said.
As Buford continues to cement her status as one of Minnesota’s top high school players, she said that basketball has taught her other things that she can apply to her life outside the sport.
Beyond motivation for school, Buford said that basketball has helped her with communication and her social interaction with people outside the Central basketball team, assets that prove valuable when she is working at Old Country Buffet in Roseville.
Buford has two more reasons to serve as motivation, a 12-year-old brother and a 7-year-old sister. Tracy Buford said both of Buford’s siblings watch everything that she does.
“(Buford) is very mature for her age and she’s very responsible,” Tracy Buford said, “She has done a great job teaching them how hard she’s had to work to get to where she is,”
That hard work paid off on the court throughout last season.
Central’s roster featured four high-caliber players who transferred from other St. Paul schools, adding talent to a team that included Buford and Howard, who were not transfer students. With all that talent, Central consistently won by large margins, including an 18-point victory in the state championship game. Central’s dominance sparked criticism that the team did not win the state title legitimately.
Their undefeated season was also speculated to be the trigger in a rule enacted by the Minnesota State High School League in March, making transfer students ineligible to participate in any league-sanctioned varsity activities for one year.
The media scrutiny helped bring the team together and had little impact on the team’s effort to win a state title.
“You got to play as a team and know what it takes to win,” Buford said about her experience from the tournament.
“The media are going to say stuff, but you can’t really listen to them,” Howard said.
As Buford gears for her senior season and a run for back-to-back state championships, Taylor said that she will have to take a role as a player and coach with a bench that is not as deep as last season.
Buford hopes to continue her winning ways at Central as preparation for her collegiate career.
“My goals are to make it back to the state tournament and take a leadership role, since I’m a senior,” she said.
Leader or not, Buford will have plenty of fans supporting her next year.
“I’ll definitely be cheering her on,” Howard said.
Should Central qualify for the state tournament this season, Buford, along with Howard and Cyonna West, would become the only Central players to play in the state tournament in all four years of high school.
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