Unlike his Oklahoma Sooner teammates, Buddy Hield has played more than his share of basketball in the Bahamas. Much of his game was honed on dusty dirt courts in Freeport with baskets often constructed from a pole and whatever a ball fit through, some put up by Hield himself.
This November there will be no dirt courts. The baskets will be regulation builds and Buddy won’t have done the work to ensure any of them are ready to welcome his smooth-as-silk jump shot.
The Sooners will take part in the prestigious Battle for Atlantis, November 26-28 in Nassau. Although he’ll be some 140 miles south of his hometown of Freeport, make no mistake “Buddy Love” will be home.
“It’s really exciting. I think about it everyday,” Hield says. “Going down there and seeing my family and friends. Being back home in the Bahamas is going to be special.”
Joining the Sooners in the Bahamas will be UCLA, Georgetown, Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Butler and Alabama-Birmingham.
For Hield, heading back to the Bahamas holds lots of meaning. A track star until the seventh grade, he caught hoops fever watching the NBA Finals, specifically another talented shooter in Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant. Soon, his attention turned to honing his skills on the makeshift courts in his Eight Mile Rock neighborhood. A natural shooter with a flair for creating his own shots, Hield’s game needed structure. He would find that structure with the help of Fitzgerald “Fitz” Forbes, a basketball junkie who coached kids out of a love for the game.
Forbes was honest with young Hield, saying his shot was solid, but the rest of his game was unpolished.
“He used to tell me I’d be a good 21 player, but not a good team player,” Hield recalls. “I would ask him what he was talking about and now I understand. I really figured out with him how to become a better team player.
“Every time someone says something to me about what I can’t do, I try to prove them wrong. When I was playing high school ball, he always pushed me to be better. He thought I could be really good and I didn’t see it at times, but he saw it.”
Hield worked at his game on the Rucker Park-like public courts in Freeport. In addition to rounding out his skills, he picked up another part of his game Sooner teammates and fans readily recognize.
“It’s different from America,” Hield explains about playground ball on the Big Island. “If a guys hits a spectacular shot or dunk or something, they rush the court and start celebrating. It’s a fun deal. That’s where I get all my energy. Having fun in a great environment.”
As his game grew, Hield decided a move to the U.S. would help with exposure and the recruiting process. He landed at Sunrise Christian Academy outside Wichita and would choose OU over the Kansas Jayhawks among others.
Now a junior, Hield had a busy 2014 off-season, attending camps run by Kevin Durant and LeBron James and playing with the Bahamian National Team. Back in Norman, the Sooners are coming off a solid season in which they finished second in the Big 12 and saw coach Lon Kruger named Big 12 Coach of the Year. With a solid core of veterans back, Hield thinks OU can make some noise this season.
“We want to win the championship,” Hield says about the Battle for Atlantis. “We’re not trying to settle for less. I know I’m going back home, but it’s going to be a tough tournament and we’re going to go out and try and win the first one and move on to the next one and the next one.”
Although basketball will be the focus, Hield admits to looking forward to playing in front of family and friends, and some home cooking. The kitchen type.
“My mom wants to cook for us and I don’t know if we’ll have time to do that,” Hield says while flashing his signature smile. “She wants to put a lot of food in us, but she doesn’t want us to eat too much before a game. I’m going to get some home cooking not matter what, even the guys don’t get it. I’m going to eat it every night I can.”
He also knows he’ll have his own contingent of fans in the gym for each outing.
“They talk to me everyday about getting tickets,” Hield says of his family, including six siblings. “They want to go, some aunties want to go. I’m trying to get as many people as I can in and I’m trying to get my family in first. Hopefully, everyone else will come too.”
One person who won’t be in the stands is Fitz, who passed away in 2012. But that doesn’t mean the man who pushed him to become the all-around player he is today won’t be on Hield’s mind.
“I think about him a lot,” Hield says. “He’s a guy I always think about. He got me started. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here today and taking basketball seriously.”
As serious as he takes the game, in part because of Fitz, Sooner fans know it’s Hield high-voltage style that often electrifies the Lloyd Noble Center. Hield hopes Nassau looks and feels a lot like the LNC come November.
“It’s going to be fun being down there, being home and seeing people from Oklahoma there coming to support us,” Hield believes. “It will be a mixture of my family, my hometown and our fans pulling for the same team. That’s pretty cool.”
Cool as a Buddy Hield jump shot.