Nothing has changed for Oklahoma Sooners guard Buddy Hield despite fame

Hield remains the laid-back, friendly island boy even as the second-best scorer in the nation

Every morning, Oklahoma guard and national player of the year candidate Buddy Hield remembers who he was before all of the hype with a simple phrase he learned from his mother.

“Thank God for Life, Health and Strength.”

He types it out every morning and shares those words with his nearly 17,000 followers on Twitter, making a point of remembering what he is thankful for after growing up in a poor family on the island of the Bahamas, where he played basketball in the street with milk crates and ragged shoes.

He doesn’t schedule the tweet. He doesn’t copy and paste. Every day, but not always at the same time, he types the words his mother taught him.

“Doing something like that every day has kept me humble,” Hield said. “It helps me understand where I come from. . . .  It keeps me humble, and I want to show everybody that I have the right mindset. I’m not using all this hype for nothing. I’m not trying to be too cocky. I’m just trying to be myself and keep getting better.”

During pre-practice dribbling exercise, Hield still puts up a shot every time down court – never too good to take just one more. He’s still consistently the first one into the gym and the last one to leave. It’s an ongoing friendly battle to see whether Hield or  Isaiah Cousins will be the first in the Lloyd Noble Center before games.

Cousins, who is Hield’s longtime roommate, said nothing has changed at the pair’s apartment. Despite all the attention Hield has received after his scoring barrage and improved play that has pushed him up the NBA Draft projections, he’s still really the same guy.

“I haven’t seen Buddy change at all in terms of his investment of time,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “He’s at practice early, staying late. Nothing’s changed. I think that’s the good thing about Buddy. Regardless of what’s happening now, he wants to keep getting better and he thinks he can get better. I haven’t seen any change at all in that respect.”

Hield never deliberately tried to stay humble as ‘Buddy Buckets,’ a persona born out of his stellar play, took the place of ‘Buddy Love’ – a moniker built on his engaging personality. He’s not deaf to the spotlight, but a natural ability to ignore it has kept him apart from it.

He knows that people are watching and that some think he’s the best in the country, but the pressure doesn’t get to him. He wants the “No. 1 spot” for him and the Sooners.

“I want to have that target on my back,” Hield said.

But the climb hasn’t changed who Hield is as a person. After the thrilling victory against West Virginia on Saturday night, Hield came back out to the court after his post-game interview with members of the media.

There was a throng of children waiting for him, hanging over the railing of the Lloyd Noble Center desperate for a handshake or an autograph. Hield started to his right, greeting everyone with his trademark big smile. As he worked through the group, kids across the walkway started yelling him name.

He smiled and playful sighed as if to jokingly ask, ‘How many more?’ Twenty minutes later, he was still greeting fans one-by-one.

“He’s still the same person,” Cousins said. “He’s still humble. He’s still working hard.”

It seems as though the only thing that has changed for Hield is his play on the court. Regarded as an excellent – yet pigeonholed – shooter before this year, Hield has developed his all-around game.

After having scored more than 25 points just five times in the first three years of his career, Hield is averaging 26.6 points per game. That’s second best in the nation and first among Power 5 conference players. He’s averaging 28.4 points per game in conference play, despite playing in what is widely regarded as the toughest conference in the nation and playing against three ranked teams in five games.

Hield needs just one more 30-point game to set the single-season program record of seven games above that threshold. And he’s the only player in the country shooting 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from behind the 3-point arc and 90 percent from the free-throw line. He’s at least seven points better in all three shooting categories than his best season output before this year.

“He really has improved across the board,” Kruger said. “Just in the general way he carries himself from a confidence standpoint. He was pretty confident last year, but I think just that self-assuredness attacking the paint, when he’s open knocking down jumpers, going to the offensive boards. Everything just seems to be done with a little more confidence and assuredness.”

Hield’s increased confidence is showing in his all-around game too. He’s posting career-bests in every category. As a result, he’s considered a lottery pick by most of the latest NBA mock drafts.

But he’s still that island boy who refused to come inside when it got dark in Freeport. He’s still thankful for life, health and strength.

“It’s just a natural thing,” Hield said. “I don’t let anything affect me. Whatever is going good for me or whatever is going bad for me, I still have to stay the same no matter what. The team feeds off my energy. If I have a bad game or not, I still have to stay the same. . . . I just try to keep my humbleness and humility.”

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