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Kobe Bufkin has become Michigan basketballs tone-setter
ANN ARBOR, MI - FEBRUARY 05: Michigan Wolverines guard Kobe Bufkin (2) drives past Ohio State Buckeyes guard Sean McNeil (4) and is fouled during the Michigan Wolverines versus the Ohio State Buckeyes game on Sunday February 5, 2023 at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, MI. (Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire)
Michiganbasketball has had a frustrating season full of ups and downs but appears to be on a bit of an upswing coming off a pair of wins over Northwestern and Ohio State, respectively. Their chances on a given night often depend on how locked in defensively they are. One player is out to make sure he brings it every time out.
Sophomore guardKobe Bufkinhas been a revelation for Michigan this season. He is averaging 12.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3 assists per game in 32.3 minutes per game. Bufkin hardly saw 10 minutes per game last season but has become a fixture on the 2022-23 Wolverines. His latest performance 13 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists helped secure a 77-69 victory over Ohio State.
But most impressive was the work he did on OSU freshman sensation Brice Sensabaugh on Sunday, holding him to 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting. Defensively, Bufkin has made major strides.
Did my job, Bufkin said. If I expect myself to do it, then Ill expect my teammates to do it. If I dont do it, I cant say anything to them about not doing it. I gotta lead with actions you can follow. Bring energy. When I play defense, I want my team to see the energy Im bringing. Im trying to become a vocal guy, but right now, Im about showing it.
He also said with a laugh: I used to get drilled on defense last year. I just try not to let it happen again.
Before the season, head coach Phil Martelli revealed that given Bufkins choice of players to emulate, he chose former Michigan captain Eli Brooks. Brooks found ways to make an impact in multiple areas and eventually became a defensive stopper for the Wolverines. Bufkin is starting to do the same.
I would ask at the end of last year with him, who did you sit and watch in the Big Ten, who would you want to be like? He would come back and say I want to be like Eli, because Eli was counted on by the team on both ends of the floor, Martelli said during the teams media day last fall. I want to be counted on both ends of the floor.
When he does his individual workouts, its the different parts of the floor. He doesnt just shoot threes, its balance in wanting to be able to score. Youre excited for him, and the next step is for him to become more vocal. With Kobe, theres a maturity. Hes not a kid anymore. Last year he was a kid, and you had Eli and you could say learn and he did pay attention.
Head coach Juwan Howard raved about Bufkins development in all areas after Sundays victory.
There were times when he would get blown by or he wasnt engaged defensively, Howard said. [And] concepts that took him a lot of time to learn. There was a learning curve with that.
And you can tell the work that hes put in during the offseason, not just in the weight room or on the court, but also just being all-in and learning and growing and putting time in film. Thats why the game has slowed down on him.
I had to grow in an area that wasnt great, Bufkin said. You have to figure it out somehow, someway.
Somehow, someway he has. And his continued growth could be a spark that helps lead a late-season surge.