Hield finding his swagger for Sooners

High-scoring guard becoming extra potent during Big 12 Conference play

Sitting in his home in the Bahamas, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield went searching for a part of him that he didn’t know he had lost.

He still had his big wide-mouthed smile, but his family noticed that something was missing.

Hield didn’t have his swagger. He was stuck in a slump.

“They see things I don’t see,” Hield said. “They said I wasn’t being myself. Going back home helped me a lot.”

Don’t try to show up earlier than Hield to home games, nowadays. For Bedlam, he was in the gym shooting at 9 a.m. – trying to get a good feel.

He doesn’t have a particular number of shots that he likes to take before a game. He shoots until he feels comfortable. He shoots through misses. He shoots through makes. All that he’s looking for is that sense – that swagger that he re-found over Christmas Break in the Bahamas.

Despite playing tougher competition, Hield is scoring at a greater rate than he did in the non-conference season. Against Big 12 opponents, Hield is averaging a conference-high 23 points per game – nobody else is even within five points per game. Before his Christmas revitalization, Hield was scoring just 15.6 points per game.

“Sometimes, you’ve got to do that, just get away from basketball and collect yourself,” Hield said. “Going back home, that motivated me a lot.”

It’s showing in all parts of his game. Hield has already broken the school record for shooting performance (10-for-10 against Oklahoma State) and the Big 12 Conference record with a 7-for-7 outing from behind the 3-point arc against Southeast Louisiana to open the season.

Hield, who has led Oklahoma (12-6) in scoring each of the past five games and all but one in Big 12 play, has sharpened all parts of his game.

His defending is better and more active, and Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said he has improved as much as anyone in that area. Hield is moving off the ball and getting to the basket with more efficiency.

“We always want him to do that more,” Kruger said. “I try not to disrupt him too much. Whatever he’s doing, we want him to keep on doing it for right now.”

Senior forward TaShawn Thomas even said that one of the main reasons that Oklahoma rallied from a 19-point halftime deficit against Kansas was because of Hield’s leadership and voice in the locker room at halftime.

Hield has been far better shooting at home, where he can stay in his routine and wake-up for his 9 a.m. date inside Lloyd Noble Center. Away from home, Hield has struggled. On the road, he is shooting 28.75 percent from behind the arc, compared to 55 percent at home.

Home isn’t everything. Three of Hield’s four worst shooting performances of the season came during Oklahoma’s trip to the Bahamas, where games were played in a modified conference room with low ceilings and deep back drops.

Being at Lloyd Noble Center has made the biggest difference, though.

“When you don’t go over your routine before a game, you don’t feel comfortable,” said Hield, who acknowledged the difficulty of shooting in an unfamiliar arena, where depth perception can be an issue. “You’ve got to find that comfort zone on the road.

“Being on the road, it takes away from that, but you’ve got to be prepared and score the ball no matter what.”

No. 19 Oklahoma goes on the road against Baylor on Saturday.

Before conference season, Hield didn’t look much like a player who was ready to make the early jump to the NBA. He lacked experience in his game, rushing shots, and he didn’t have the ability to take over a game.

He also was missing one of the biggest qualities for most NBA players. He didn’t have that swagger.

Well, he has it now.

“I’m back on that same mindset, and I’m even hungrier,” Hield said. “Every time I shoot, I’m shooting to make it. I’m not trying to miss because I’ve put too much work in, and I’m tired of missing.”

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