By John Shinn, CNHI News Service
NORMAN, Okla. —
At some point, reality will set in for Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield. He’ll fully understand everyone doesn’t get to work at what they truly love doing.
The vast majority of people take vacations to get away from their jobs. They don’t fret because they’ve missed a day of it.
“It is work. It’s my job,” Hield said when asked about the game he plays and greatly desires to be his profession.
The difference is he devotes himself to “work” with a passion others reserve for hobbies.
All Sooner players have 24-hour access to the Bruce Drake practice court at Lloyd Noble Center. They are free to come by at any time and put up shots 365 days a year.
Hield has only been at OU for a little over two years, but there’s hardly a time of day a coach or a teammate hasn’t spotted him in that practice gym.
“Every time I come in here, he’s already here shooting. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. I’ve been in here at 10 o’clock at night and he was here,” OU forward Ryan Spangler said as he saw Hield walk by after Tuesday’s practice. “I guess he doesn’t have anything better to do.”
Luckily for the Sooners, Hield’s compulsion hasn’t been swayed. He enters today’s game against Kansas State averaging a team-best 16.7 points per game and 17.5 against Big 12 opponents.
In a league stocked with talented players, Hield might be the most improved since last season.
Think back to last Saturday’s 77-74 victory over Oklahoma State. It was Hield who buried two critical 3-pointers — one to tie the game and another to take the lead for good — that lifted the Sooners to 19-7 overall and into a three-way tie for third place in the league at 8-5 with five games to go.
Then think back to last season, back when Hield shot just 23.8 percent from 3-point range and 38.8 percent from the field.
Hield went to work.
The practice sessions were constant over the spring and summer with OU assistant coaches Steven Henson and Chris Crutchfield. Any drill they could think up, Hield enthusiastically took on.
“Where I came from, there’s no stop, no quit, no turning back. I just have to keep going as far as I can and as far as God takes me,” Hield said. “I just have to keep increasing my game, and trying to get better.”
Where Hield came from is the Bahamas. It might be an island paradise to tourists, but it’s not a place where one typically falls in love with basketball. Indoor courts are sparse.
Even finding a concrete surface can involve a long trek.
Hield first started playing the game on dirt courts in a park near his home in Freeport. Most of those games were played in bare feet or slippers. Basketball shoes are only slightly more common than the indoor courts. Your feet take a beating under those circumstances.
Nonetheless, Hield was hooked.
“I fell in love with shooting the ball. You see other guys shooting the ball and you’re making it and no one else is, and you feel like either you have better concentration than them or they just can’t shoot,” he said. “It was something I felt like I could be good at and I started watching the game more. I felt like there was something more to this game than what I’m doing now. I felt like I could make something out of it.”
That brought him in 2010 to Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kan. Two years later, he was a four-star recruit and centerpiece of the Sooners’ 2012 recruiting class.
OU thought it was getting a slashing guard with an endless motor. At least that was what Hield was last season.
That was before a summer in the gym, trying to strengthen a weakness.
“He probably shoots it more now and we like to have him slashing more,” said OU head coach Lon Kruger. “He will, whether it’s right now or next year. It’s a process, but he’s going to become a really good scorer.”
There’s no reason to doubt Kruger when he says that. All he has to do is ask Hield to improve something and the impulse to get better takes over.
Hield doesn’t simply love playing basketball. His passion is to get better doing it.
“If I just came here just to play basketball, then there’s no joy to game,” Hield said. “It’s something I love and I take serious. It’s work and it’s a job. You look at NBA players and you want to be like them and try to play at their level. They consider it their job. I look at it like that.”