Buddy's Big Sooners Stage

Hield ready to shine in OU under spotlight that he admired as a young boy

As a kid, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield would rush home from school every March, trying to stake a claim to the one television set in his Bahamian house – much to the dismay of his mother.

He monopolized the remote for the rest of the night, consumed by the theater taking place on basketball courts around the country.

Hield didn’t have a favorite team. Instead, he would root for the underdog and hope for an upset – laughing when he insisted that he doesn’t want the Sooners to be upset Friday night.

“That’s not for us,” laughed Hield, who never filled out a bracket when he was younger and didn’t know that was a thing.

What kept Hield obsessed with the NCAA Tournament at a young age from an island 181 miles off the coast of Miami was the drama of the event.

This year, Hield isn’t watching it anymore. He could be playing a starring role.

“We’d love that,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “We need all the guys to play as well as they possibly can. We need Buddy to step up and do what he’s done and more. It’s an opportunity.”

Hield, who is a candidate to jump to the NBA Draft after his junior season, is the kind of player made for the spotlight of the NCAA Tournament.

He’s charismatic.

He’s photogenic.

He’s the Big 12 Player of the Year – the best player in the nation’s best conference as well as its leading scorer.

He has a penchant for the big shot and the big stage.

“I’ve got to turn it on, no matter what,” Hield said. “I’ve got to put on for my teammates and put on for Oklahoma and Sooner Nation. You get all those awards, you’ve got to show that you deserve those awards. You’ve got to come locked in and focused and ready to make shots, and show everybody you deserve it and carry your team.”

That has been a bit of a struggle of late for Hield, who is mired in a shooting slump. In his last five games against NCAA-Tournament teams, Hield is shooting just 31 percent but averaging 18.8 points per game.

That’s not really something that the Sooners are worried about.

“I don’t think anybody on the team is worried about Buddy not shooting well right now,” Oklahoma forward TaShawn Thomas said. “He’s going to get hot soon. We know that he’ll show up at big times in games.”

NBA scouts aren’t going to be fooled by a couple good games on national television, but the NCAA Tournament is a stage nonetheless. Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier both translated championship runs in the tournament into professional paydays, becoming the darlings of the dance if not improving their NBA stock.

“They’re not going to be tricked by a moment,” Kruger said.

Some might be enthralled by one, like Hield was so many years ago.

Of all the underdogs Hield watched, his favorite was Stephen Curry and the Davidson Wildcats. He remembers that Elite Eight game against Kansas, after Davidson had knocked off Georgetown and Wisconsin already.

Davidson hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game in almost 40 years before the March and hasn’t won since then, but guard Stephen Curry dribbled over half court with a chance to beat eventual-national champion Kansas. Curry came across two screens before dribbling to the right wing and pump faking, putting Jayhawks’ forward Brandon Rush into the air and being swarmed by Sherron Collins.

What happened next wasn’t to Hield’s liking. Curry passed off the ball, and Davidson’s desperation 25-footer missed as the buzzer sounded. Hield would have done something different.

“He should have taken that shot,” Hield said through his big, camera-friendly smile.

Hield would have wanted the stage – the spotlight. Now, he has it.

“Carry your team: That’s what leaders do,” he said. “They carry their team to the Sweet 16, the Elite 8 and the Final Four. I’ve got to be ready for that.”

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