Sometimes it would take hours to construct his own basketball goal, a process that had to be repeated frequently -- about every two to three weeks. But he insists the time commitment was worth it.
As an 11-year-old, he would build the goals using crates taken from the backyards of his neighbors in the Bahamas, cutting out the bottoms so the sides would replicate a net. Then he would take dozens of nails and attach the makeshift hoops to street poles. The dusty roads of the neighborhood Eight Mile Rock served as the playing surface.
Once the construction process was completed he and his friends would play late into the night, sometimes angering the sleeping neighborhood residents to the point they would later remove the goal.
This is where Buddy Hield learned to love the game of basketball.
Now, the Oklahoma sophomore affectionately known as 'Buddy Love' by his teammates finds himself playing under the bright lights of the Lloyd Noble Center instead of beneath the dim glow of Bahamian street poles.
“This is what I always wanted as a kid,” Hield says. “We weren’t fortunate enough to have a basketball court growing up, so having the opportunity to play in this building and for a great university, words can’t explain how blessed I am.”
Track and field is the most common sport in Hield’s home country, but he fell in love with basketball at a young age by watching the NBA and big-time college basketball games on television. He recalls seeing teams advance in the NCAA Tournament and thinking, “That could be me one day.” He would tell himself he had to keep believing in his dream. And keep working.
“In the Bahamas, everybody’s goal is to come to the United States, whether it’s from high school or to come to college,” Hield explains. “Everyone dreams of coming here and playing Division I basketball. A lot of people don’t get to go, but a few people do, and I am one of the few who gets to be on TV a lot and has a chance to make that run in the NCAA Tournament. I am just thankful for what I have.”
The first member of the current OU coaching staff to ever see Hield play was assistant Chris Crutchfield, who was then on the Oral Roberts staff. He attended a showcase in Hield’s hometown in 2007, when Hield was 13 years old.
Crutchfield is friends with the event’s organizer, a high school coach in Freeport named Darrell Sears. Sears brought in several kids to participate in the showcase, and one of them was Hield.
“He brings in this dusty-haired kid with dust all over him like he had been playing basketball on an outdoor court,” Crutchfield recalls of the first time he saw Hield. “He was full of joy and full of life and talking to everybody.”
He brings in this dusty-haired kid with dust all over him like he had been playing basketball on an outdoor court. He was full of joy and full of life and talking to everybody.
Watching the kid shoot during a game at the showcase, Crutchfield noticed he was making every attempt despite having a “funky, weird shot” that started at his hip. Crutchfield inquired about the youngster’s identity and was told, “It’s Jackie’s boy.” Jackie is the name of Hield’s mom. Crutchfield jotted down Hield’s name, but did not think much more of it.
Fast-forward to 2010 and Hield has moved to Wichita, Kan. While attending Sunrise Christian Academy, about a three-hour drive from the Oral Roberts campus in Tulsa, Okla., Crutchfield saw Hield play in a game and was impressed enough to begin the recruiting process.
What initially caught Crutchfield’s eye during the showcase in the Bahamas was not Hield’s set of on-court skills, but rather the energy he displayed.
He was walking around making funny sounds. The same stuff he’s doing now, he was doing it back then. He was sure of himself then just like you see him now.
“He had a smile on his face when he first walked into the gym that showed he was just happy to even be given the opportunity to play in front of some coaches,” Crutchfield says. “And he had this sense of confidence about him.
“He was walking around making funny sounds. The same stuff he’s doing now, he was doing it back then. He was sure of himself then just like you see him now. He’s a very confident kid. That’s what I saw first before I even saw him shoot the ball. I saw that more than anything.”
Making the decision to leave home and go to a foreign country is a testament to Hield’s character, Crutchfield says. While immersed in the family environment at Sunrise, Hield improved both in academics and basketball.
Crutchfield admits that when he first witnessed Hield on the court there was no way to predict he would become an elite player in the Big 12 Conference.
“He got stronger and changed his shot, and he turned himself into a high-major player from a little skinny, dusty-headed kid from the Bahamas, which is surprising,” Crutchfield says.
Hield enters Wednesday’s home game against Texas Tech ranked third in the Big 12 in conference play with his 18.4 points per game. He ranks second in league games with his 3.5 3-pointers per contest and has scored in double figures in all but one game this season.
He is a big reason the Sooners are 18-6 overall and headed for their best record since Blake Griffin’s final collegiate season five years ago. OU is ranked No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Hield exudes energy on and off the court and says his charismatic personality comes from his mom. He also believes he carries his own Bahamian vibe and swagger and often greets people by enthusiastically belting out, “How it go, Daddy-O!” He says everyone in his high school even adopted the line after he made it popular.
Hield explains why he’s so upbeat.
Smiling and laughing makes you a better person and I hate to see people down.
“Smiling and laughing makes you a better person and I hate to see people down,” he says. “So if you’re down, I’ll be down. So I try to help people smile and crack a few jokes so then they can have a good day.”
OU head coach Lon Kruger says Hield’s natural enthusiasm and energy help the Sooners every day in practice, not just games.
“That type of attitude is very contagious, and everyone benefits,” the third-year OU mentor says.
Crutchfield echoes Kruger, saying Hield carries a leadership role on this year’s squad, serving as the “rah-rah guy” and bringing energy to each and every game. Even if he is struggling on the court, he still keeps his spirits high.
“That goes back to his personality,” Crutchfield says. “He can play bad and still be the same guy out there talking and making his funny sounds and still being energetic without scoring the basketball. Then when he does score, it’s just a bonus for everybody else because everyone is going to feed off his ability to make shots.”
According to Kruger, the fact Hield went from creating his own basket and court as a child to playing basketball in the U.S. to starting for a Division I program reflects his complete dedication to the sport.
Buddy loves the game... He’s never been discouraged and has consistently made progress and has developed into a very good player.
“Buddy loves the game,” Kruger says. “That kind of sums of his relationship with basketball, and it’s so obvious when you watch him play. It’s impressive to think about his early beginnings as a young player and how hard he’s worked and the enthusiasm that he’s maintained throughout. He’s never been discouraged and has consistently made progress and has developed into a very good player.”
Crutchfield thinks Hield has a unique outlook whenever he steps on the basketball court because of his underprivileged background.
“When you have to go through that (process of making your own hoop and court) to play, there is a hunger inside of you that a lot of players don’t have because they had a basket, they had a ball, they had everything set up for them to have success,” Crutchfield says. “You take pride because it started from the bottom, so to say, in even building your own court. I’m happy for him because I’ve seen the progression he’s made. The sky’s the limit for him, so I’m really proud of what Buddy has done to this point.”
Hield’s character comes from growing up in a strong family that cares about people and is unselfish, Crutchfield says. As a result of that upbringing, Hield demonstrates these characteristics daily and has a goal of helping as many Bahamian basketball players as he can.
“He’s really unique in the way he feels about going back and helping kids in the Bahamas,” Crutchfield says. “He loves kids, and I think he can be a really big ambassador for Bahamian basketball.”
Hield says he is well aware kids back home watch him on TV wishing they could be in his situation, just as he used to watch collegiate players as a little kid. This makes him even more appreciative of the opportunity he has been given and motivates him to represent his country well.
A lot of people love the game of basketball back home, so to have a Bahamian out there representing them makes them feel special, as well.
“For the people back home, I know it’s a blessing for them to be able to watch me, and I know they are cheering me on,” Hield explains. “A lot of people love the game of basketball back home, so to have a Bahamian out there representing them makes them feel special, as well.
“There are a lot of people back home who helped me get to this point,” Hield continues, “and I’d especially like to thank the late Fitzgerald Forbes, a basketball coach in our community who we called ‘Fitz.’ If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be playing basketball today. He always encouraged me to play and to always work hard, even when I didn’t want to. Now I tell young kids who look up to me to do the same things I did and just keep on believing in your dreams and never give up.”
Playing basketball at the University of Oklahoma, Hield is far removed from his days of systematically creating courts and goals just to play the sport he loved. But in a way, he’s not. Hield will never forget where he came from, or what it took for him to get here.
A Special Presentation of SoonerSports.com // University of Oklahoma Intercollegiate Athletics
Written By: Chelsey Kraft // Video Producer: Jessica Coody // Site Producer: Russell Houghtaling
Special Thanks: Mike Houck // Abby Bishop