By Chris Chaney
Beginning in 2014, the Minnesota Lady Golden Gophers will not have to worry about their Big Ten opponents coming into the lane as the program locked up 6-foot-5 New Richmond center Josie Buckingham last week.
“I committed to the University of Minnesota today,” Buckingham said on Jan. 2, following the Lady Lions’ 56-19 victory over Roger Bacon. “When I visited there I felt like I fit in very well and I really loved the coaches and the team and how they ran their program.”
Buckingham, still only a junior, called Minnesota head coach Pam Borton to give the coach her verbal commitment. National Signing Day is Feb. 6 when Buckingham will be eligible to sign her National Letter of Intent.
Averaging a double-double through 10 games this year, Buckingham has led the Lady Lions to a 7-3 record to open her junior campaign. The center averages 16.8 points, 12.8 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game for the Lady Lions.
Buckingham was ranked 16th in her class and according to New Richmond head coach Brad Hatfield, the signing will be a historic day for New Richmond High School sports.
“We’re as proud as we can be of Josie,” Hatfield said. “She has come a long way and it’s because she’s worked hard. It’s one of the biggest things that has ever happened for our program.
“Just having her on the team and the kind of player she is gives everybody else more confidence.”
Aside from signing with a big-time Division I program, Hatfield believes Buckingham made the right decision in choosing Minnesota over other suitors such as the University of Cincinnati, the University of Iowa and Virginia Commonwealth.
“I think she made a good decision and it’s a good fit for her,” Hatfield said. “I think a Big Ten program plays the style of game that is good for Josie — a possession game that focuses on defense and puts the spotlight on the center position and post play. I think it’s a good situation for everyone.
“It’s for our school, it’s good for our program and it’s good for Josie. It’s good for everyone involved.”
Hatfield was heavily involved in Buckingham’s recruitment, talking to coaches from all around the country and explaining to them the type of situation in which Buckingham would thrive.
“I told them what (Buckingham) was looking for and asked them what they had to offer, what their plans were for her, how she would fit into their program and made sure that they were talking to her for the right reasons and really wanted her,” Hatfield said. “(Minnesota) is a class organization and they have a family-type organization like I try to run with my program (at New Richmond).”
The commitment is a load of off Buckingham’s mind as well as the rest of the teams’. Hatfield believes getting her decision made as a junior will be something that only helps both Buckingham as well as her teammates.
“Having major college scouts in the stands every night is a lot of pressure for a 16-year-old kid,” Hatfield said. “Knowing that she’s got that taken care of and knowing that she’s got something to look forward to and her future is certain, I think that’s huge.
“It takes the pressure not only off of Josie, but also off of all the players. The type of players that we have here, they want to do whatever they can for their teammates. Our guards were under a lot of pressure to try and make Josie look good.
“I think now the pressure is off them, the pressure is off Josie and the pressure is off me.”
Buckingham has a 4.0 GPA and plans to major in pre-med, a large factor in her decision to pick Minnesota.
“It’s a very good school and they have a good Med school which I can look forward to after undergraduate,” Buckingham said.
Buckingham should have an equal opportunity to shine in the classroom as she will on the national stage under Coach Borton. During her 10 years at Minnesota, Borton has taken the Golden Gophers to the Final Four once, the Sweet 16 three times and made six NCAA Tournament appearances.