He doesn'y shoot much, although he handles the basketball maybe 60 percent of the time for the Phoenix Suns. His anticipation is so great that no all-defensive team seems official without him. His voice has never lost its Hoosier twang, and the chief part of his game is helping other people.
Guard Don Buse (pronounced Boozey) is a folk hero in Phoenix, where he contributed mightily to the Suns' 55 regular-seasons wins this year. He was also the Leech of the Week on defense recently as Phoenix moved past Kansas City and into a best-of- seven playoff series with the Los Angeles Lakers.
In most other National Basketball Association cities, where fans don't get the opportunity to see Buse that often and are usually obsessed only with what the shooters are doing, Don still needs an introduction.
"Since our emphasis is on team basketball, anyway, no one player really makes us go," Suns Coach John MacLeod explained. "But Buse does so many important things for us that don't show up in the box score that we would feel it if he were out for any length of time.Don probably should shoot more, and part of that is my fault for not getting on him. But it's hard to criticize someone who steals the ball as often as he does and works so hard on defense."
Although Buse is a superb ball handler and passer, the real finesse of his game is on defense, where he is never physical or overpowering. Instead he anticipates what opposing players are going to do and then reacts by either stealing the ball or intercepting a pass. His hands are quick and virtually everywhere, and most of his steals cleanly made.
"The thing with Buse is that everything he does is based on the concept of team play," MacLeod said. "He gets other people involved in what he's doing; he looks for the pass first and then the shot; and he's very consistent. You could play him with four guys he'd never seen before and he'd still adjust."
the joker in Buse's deck is the fact that in high school and college (University of Evansville) he was generally his team's best scorer. Like his idol Cazzie Russell, who played with several NBA teams, he couldn't wait to shoot the ball. But unlike Cazzie, he got a tremendous amount of satisfaction from playing defense.
What changed Buse were his early years with the Indiana Pacers of the now- defunct American Basketball Association.
"Indiana had a lot of shooters the year I broke in, so I decided the best thing for me was to try to give them something they didn't have, which was playmaking and defense," Don said. "It worked so well that I simply stayed with it, although my fourth year in the ABA I finally did shoot in double figures."
Phoenix, with MacLeod putting so much emphasis on team play and on helping one another out on defense, is an ideal spot for Buse. Don has an easy relationship with fellow guard Paul Westphal, the Suns' top scorer, and he also works well with forward Walter Davis, who can really get out and run on the fast break.
"Most players who have a reputation for getting assists don't like to have their routine altered," Westphal said. "If a teammate gets open they always think they should be the one to make the pass. But Buse isn't like that. He doesn't care who hits the open man as long as the connection results in a basket."
Buse is also in complete agreement with MacLeod's philosophy of an 11-man team, where everybody gets to play some and nobody gets overworked. In fact, Don says that for him 30 to 32 minutes of floor time a game is just right.
"If you're going to have a team that can stand up under pressure, you have to be able to rely on more than just six or seven people," MacLeod said. "The old Boston Celtics were like that; Portland was like that the year it won the title; and Seattle and Los Angeles are also structured that way
As for Buse, his unselfish style probably would have allowed him to play with any of them.