Ridaught: Buchholz legends honored

Buchholz High School honored alumni Vernon Maxwell and Lamar Thomas Thursday night. (From left) BHS boys basketball coach Blake Golden, Maxwell, former BHS boys basketball coach Rick Swain, Thomas and BHS Athletic Director George Atohi. (Photo by C.J. Gish)
Photo by C.J. Gish

Lamar Thomas still remembers the game.

During his senior year at Buchholz in 1988, Thomas had 43 points against Lake Weir (Ocala) when head coach Rick Swain pulled him out of the lineup.

He was one point away from tying the school record of 44 points, previously set by Vernon Maxwell.

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“I was like ‘man I’m going to get that record tonight’ and all of a sudden I was taken out of the game in the third quarter because Vernon’s record was 44,” Thomas said with a laugh, but also noting the Bobcats were blowing out Lake Weir at the time.

Swain reminisced about both of his star players’ top performances.

“The one with 44 (Maxwell’s record), I think it was Live Oak,” Swain said. “Lamar had 43 at Lake Weir and I didn’t know it, but he knew it, and I took him out of the game, but I think that was their greatest offensive nights for them. Vernon played great defense, rebounded, he did it all.”

The two Buchholz greats were honored on Thursday night in a ceremony prior to the Bobcats’ home game against rival Eastside.

Thomas, who played football, basketball, baseball, and ran track at Buchholz, didn’t get the record that night but he cherishes his time in the black and gold.

“That (43 points) definitely was a memorable moment, but to play in this gym and to play alongside great teammates who understood what I brought to the table and I understood what they brought, it was just awesome,” said Thomas, who is the wide receivers coach at the University of Kentucky. “It’s memories that I’ll never forget.”

He was in awe of his surroundings at Bud Seymore Gymnasium on Thursday night.

“This is awesome,” said Thomas, who won two football national titles at the University of Miami and also played in the NFL. “To be alongside Vernon Maxwell, a person who basically changed my life, getting an opportunity to shake his hand as an 8th grader, I was just a guy until I shook his hand and after I shook his hand it turned something on in me, a light, to want to be successful, and to be honored alongside of him is a great honor.”

Maxwell was named Florida’s Mr. Basketball his senior year at Buchholz in 1984 and he was also an all-state defensive back for the Bobcats.

“Mad Max,” as he became known in the NBA, averaged 31.6 points per game during his senior year and led the Bobcats to their third straight 20-plus win season.

“I feel so blessed,” said Maxwell, who was almost speechless when describing the moment. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Vernon Maxwell gives Houston Rockets championship jersey to Buchholz
Vernon Maxwell gives Houston Rockets championship jersey to Buchholz Photo by C.J. Gish

When Maxwell asked Coach Swain which game stood out the most, Swain replied, “almost every game.”

Being back in Gainesville gave him a chance to also reflect on his time in a Gator uniform where he excelled on the court. His 2,450 career points would be a program record if they had not been rescinded.

The records he set don’t tell the entire story of his success with the Gators.

“Just making it to the first NCAA tournament that they had, being able to be a part of that, so it was a blessing,” Maxwell said. “And the relationships I had with Andrew Moten, Ronnie Montgomery, Eugene McDowell, God bless him, Coach Monte Towe, Coach Kenny McCraney, just all those guys, man it’s a blessing. I’m a blessed man.”

Maxwell also played 13 seasons in the NBA and won back-to-back titles with the Houston Rockets (1993-1994),

“That’s something I never thought I would ever do because I never won a championship in any sport,” Maxwell said. “I could get there to the championship game, but I never won one, and I finally did it at the highest level so that was a blessing. I felt like we had a chance because they kept the team together in Houston, and I felt like we had a really legit chance, so like I just said, I’m just blessed, man.”

Buchholz Athletics Director George Atohi began organizing this event last year but due to COVID-19 (capacity restrictions and travel), he wanted to wait until they could have a larger crowd, which showed up in a big way on Thursday night.

“It was long overdue,” Athoi said. “The look on those guys’ faces…we were in the locker room and Lamar was telling stories about how he looked up to Vernon and they were saying how we all wear black and gold and there’s a legacy to this program. We’re going to hang their jerseys in the lobby. It was an amazing night.”

The momentum that was building for the ceremony carried over into the varsity basketball game, as Buchholz ended an 8-game losing streak in the series with a 47-33 win.

Buchholz boys basketball coach Blake Golden summed up the evening with Maxwell and Thomas.

“People now don’t really know what they did,” he explained. “They were some of the best players in the state. So having those guys back in the gym, having them talk to our guys, and understand ‘they were in your shoes,’ that’s a big deal.”

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