Buckner paid far more serious dues in becoming one of the most unlikely players in the NCAA tournament. Boise State faces LaSalle at 9 p.m. Wednesday in Dayton in one of the four opening games of the NCAA tournament. The Broncos (21-10) and Explorers (21-9) are 13th seeds; the winner will advance to face Kansas State in Kansas City on Friday.
His mother, Marvita Doreen “Pinky” Buckner, was fatally shot in the neck on Montana Avenue NE in Nov. 1994 on her way to buy a $1 can of beer at 2 a.m., according to a Washington Post story from the time. She was 31 and had relinquished custody of her four children, including 3-year-old Kenny, to a relative because of her drug addiction. A fifth child, the Post story said, had died of complications of AIDS.
Buckner’s father, Leonard Webster, about two years removed from prison — “the best two years of my life,” Buckner said — was fatally shot on a Prince George’s County bike path in May 2005.
Years later, Buckner was attending Montgomery College when his grandmother, Elaine Webster, fell ill. “That’s my heart right there,” Buckner says of his grandma. He dropped out of school to spend nights with Webster at medical facilities where he was such a regular, including overnight, that the nurses would sometimes reserve a plate of food for him.
After his grandmother improved, Buckner started playing basketball at Lamond Recreation Center in the District. To his surprise, he showed promise.
“I would just go play for fun just to get off the streets and do something useful with my time,” Buckner said. “My goal wasn’t even to try to get in school. A man who worked at the rec said I had a little skill set to play basketball and told me to keep coming to the gym and play for the rec team and he’ll give me a school.”
The 6-foot-7, 251-pound Buckner ended up at Garden City (Kan.) Community College, where he redshirted, and then at the College of Southern Idaho for two years. For the past two seasons he has played at Boise State, where he is a key reserve center for the Broncos, shooting 62.6 percent from the floor and averaging 5.1 points and 5.1 rebounds. His season high of 11 rebounds came against NCAA tournament teams New Mexico and San Diego State.
“It’s nice and it’s clean and it’s fresh air,” Buckner said of the state he has called home for the past four years. “I wake up and it’s like somebody painted a picture every day.”