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GWINNETT GRADS: New college working out well for Buck

Boats have always interested Reed Buck.

One of his favorite activities is taking his family's boat out on Lake Lanier and he took a few cruises when he was younger. That love made the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy a serious option in the recruiting process when Buck was a senior at Collins Hill.

He took multiple visits to the King's Point, N.Y., school back in 2009 before eventually choosing North Georgia, where he played as a freshman for the 2009-10 season. He loved his decision from a basketball standpoint, but wasn't sure it was the right fit for his education.

"I was really happy with North Georgia," Buck said. "I just didn't know what I was going to do after graduation. I was recruited by (USMMA) before and I had always been interested in ships, so I decided to pursue it."

With that decision, Buck left the North Georgia basketball program and joined the team at USMMA, another NCAA Division III program, situated on the Long Island Sound across from the Bronx in New York City.

The 6-foot-5, 200-pounder sat out the 2010-11 season, but has returned sharper than ever. He's carrying the offensive load for his new team, averaging 19.8 points (third in the Landmark Conference) when the No. 2 scorer averages 7.5.

Buck has scored in double figures in 19 straight games, scoring 33 in his most recent game, a 75-70 win over conference-leading Juniata. He made 12 of 16 field goals in that victory.

His season high was 35 points (on 13 of 21 shooting, 6 of 9 from 3-point range) in an 87-78 win over Wesley on Dec. 30.

"I guess my role is as a scorer primarily," said Buck, whose sister Emily is a senior on Collins Hill's girls basketball team. "Coach wants me to get more rebounds (he averages 5.1), which I need to do."

The big offensive season also is noteworthy for its efficiency. The league's top two scorers shoot much more than Buck, who makes 51.9 percent of his field goals and 42.9 percent from 3-point range. He also ranks among the conference leaders with an 82.5 free-throw percentage.

The basketball transition has been the simple part.

Not unlike more well-known military service academies, the USMMA is strict and offers difficult course work. Buck spent his first year with core classes like chemistry and physics, and now he's taking navigation and ship handling courses.

Prior to basketball season, he spent three months at sea learning on a ship that traveled to Honolulu, Guam, three ports in China and back to Long Beach, Calif. When he finishes this season, he will complete another mandatory tour on the ocean, this one for nearly eight months. While at sea, he completes projects and course work for school.

"It was my first time being at sea and you have to grow up pretty quickly," Buck said. "You're thrown right into the work force."

Living on a ship made conditioning for basketball difficult, but he's bounced back quickly to average a team-high 27.3 minutes this season. The next trip to sea should be his last until his expected graduation in June 2014.

After he leaves the USMMA, Buck can perform active duty in any military branch or maintain his maritime license for six years, either of which will complete his requirements with the academy. He's still undecided about his future plans, but he knows his new school is a better fit than his previous one.

"I'd like to end up working on a cruise ship possibly," said Buck, whose father is an airline pilot. "Maybe working on tugs (tug boats) or being a harbor pilot somewhere. Or even go into the business side."

BASKETBALL

Fast break

Norcross' Tiffany Clarke dominated Thursday night in Vanderbilt's 66-61 victory at Auburn. The junior had a game-high 26 points, making 9 of 11 field goals and 8 of 9 free throws. ... Florida guard Jordan Jones, a Collins Hill grad, was named this week to the Capital One Academic All-District 4 Team along with Auburn's Blanche Alverson, a Buford grad. Jones, who has a 3.8 GPA in business/sports management, saw her streak of 43 straight games played end Thursday night because of a concussion from last Sunday's game.

Fellow Collins Hill grad Lauren Pace, a senior guard at Limestone College (S.C.), was named to the Capital One Academic team for District 3/NCAA Division II. She has a 3.88 GPA in biology. ... Wesleyan's Griffin Schamp was named Birmingham Southern's athlete of the week after scoring 10 points vs. Colorado College and 11 points vs. Hendrix, both victories. He made 9 of 13 field goals in the games for the nation's 11th-ranked Division III team.

Greater Atlanta Christian's Trent Wiedeman, a sophomore at the College of Charleston had back-to-back double-doubles in losses (10 points, 12 rebounds vs. Furman, 18 points, 10 rebounds vs. Wofford), then had six points and 14 boards in a victory over Samford. ... Central Gwinnett's Kyron Anderson had a team-high 16 points last weekend in LaGrange's 70-67 victory over Maryville.

TRACK AND FIELD

Mills posts career best

Grayson grad Akil Mills, a sophomore thrower at Illinois State, had a career-best toss in the weight throw last weekend at the Indiana Relays.

Mills' throw of 65 feet, 11 inches, good for a seventh-place finish at the meet, also was the third-longest throw in school history.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via email to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com.