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STAR OF STARS RUFFIN POURS IN 51 POINTS IN 411 GAME

"You talk about playground legends, you gotta bring up a guy named Lamar Mundane. I seen him just rain jump shots off people. Four, five, six shots in a row. People just started calling him 'Money,' cause when he shot, it was money in the bank. Slam dunks are tough, but when a 35-footer comes rainin' out of the sky, it'll wire you up." -- Nike commercial.

I never got to see Trevor Ruffin play high school basketball. He graduated from Bennett in 1988, a few years before I came to Buffalo.

After what I saw in Canisius College's Koessler Center Saturday, I wish I hadn't missed him.

Ruffin did a great Lamar Mundane imitation during the third-annual 411 All-Star game, pouring in 51 points to help his team win, 153-152, in overtime.

There have been many stories about the best basketball players to come out of Buffalo. One person folks around town still talk about is Ruffin, who once scored 76 points in a high school game. What people talk about most is his remarkable ability to shoot from anywhere on the court.

The stories were not exaggerated. At 33 years old, the guy's still got it.

Ruffin's plane from Atlanta landed in Buffalo less than an hour before tipoff, but he must have warmed up his shooting arm in the baggage claim area. He rained three-pointers (10 in all) all over the court from well beyond 30 feet. On a couple of treys, he pulled up a couple of steps past midcourt and fired. Swish!

No wonder Ruffin got a chance to play in the NBA and Europe after starring at the University of Hawaii in the early 1990s.

"I had a great time," said Ruffin, who shares the Western New York high school single-game record of 12 threes with Ritchie Campbell. "I knew it was an all-star game, so I was excited and played hard.

"I love playing basketball here. Playing other places is cool, but the competitiveness in Buffalo is so special. Everyone has so much pride and I love that. Whenever I come home I know there's going to be some good basketball."

The promise of good basketball is what attracted several former local stars to the 411 All-Star game, which brought together four decades of Buffalo basketball, from former Kensington and Niagara University standout Mike Phillips (Class of 1978) to Ka'Ron Barnes (Turner-Carroll, 2000).

"When Mike Phillips played, I was probably in the sixth grade," said John Thomas (Bennett, '87), the organizer of the game. "When I graduated high school, Jason Rowe was about nine. Just bridging those gaps keeps everybody together, and a game like this definitely helps to do that."

"This game is a tremendous thing for Buffalo basketball," added Marcus Whitfield, The News' 1989 Player of the Year who went to Burgard and now lives in Virginia Beach, Va. "I plan to continue coming back as long as the game keeps going."

Buffalo basketball has gotten its share of knocks over the years, but Saturday's game was indication of just how much talent has come out of this area.

Whitfield is another player I had only heard and read about. He once scored 80 in a game, breaking Ruffin's Western New York record and recorded more points in a season (1,054) than any local player ever.

I'm told he had a man's body in high school. Now in his early 30s, he still looks physically imposing.

Phillips is in his early 40s, but he can still hold his own with guys half his age.

"I grew up a student of the game, so I learned a lot watching Trevor and Ice Cream (Whitfield) and Curtis Aiken and those other guys," said Rowe (Traditional, 1996). "Being on the court with them was a great honor because they made Buffalo basketball."

I had the opportunity to cover players of more recent vintage, stars like Rowe, Barnes, Seneca's Damone Brown (1997), Turner-Carroll's Malik Campbell (1996) and McKinley's Hodari Mallory (1999). Watching them Saturday brought back fond memories of their exploits.

They were all impressive Saturday. Rowe, who is playing professionally in France, scored 31 points for the losing team and dazzled with his slick passing. The 6-foot-9 Brown ran the floor and handled the ball like a point guard.

Barnes and Campbell haven't lost their shooting touches. Neither has Mallory, who scored the winning basket on a putback at the buzzer (fitting since he played collegiately at Canisius).

But the star of stars Saturday was Ruffin. On a memorable day of basketball in Buffalo, he gave a performance that won't be forgotten.
email: awilson@buffnews.com

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