The only thing freshman Christian James knew about Oklahoma Sooners All-American Buddy Hield before James got to campus was the little information that the coaching staff gave to him when trying to sell the Sooners to the Houston-based guard. He knew that Hield and Isaiah Cousins were likely going to be, at the time, late-round draft picks. He didn’t do any research on the pair until after he got to campus in July.
Once James arrived in Norman, assistant coaches Lew Hill and Chris Crutchfield would get on James, telling him that he needed to get in the gym more. Back then, James was less than a year removed from a broken left tibia, something he had shown no ill effects from during his time at Oklahoma. But every time James went to the gym, Hield was there. In the morning, after lunch or late at night: James never shot alone.
Hield is the player that James wants to be.
“He’s like my blueprint,” James said. “Everything about us is pretty much identical.”
Along with the matching haircut, which James joked that Hield got from him, the two are very similar. James is more of an attacker than a shooter. Hield came to Norman full of athleticism but lacking the refinement in his current game, something James didn’t know was just another similarity between the two.
James is just a little stockier despite being the same height. James has also learned to shoot like Hield – maybe not with the same form but just as often.
The pair can be found now routinely on the main court at the Lloyd Noble Center, joined by Cousins and blasting music. They are the only ones in the gym. They shoot until they’re tired.
“It’s just fuel, fuel to the fire, to know what I’ll be able to do in the next couple years,” James said.
James wouldn’t have picked up the strong work habits at Oklahoma had he not seen the results first hand. Watching Hield and Cousins work from being “late-round picks” to potential first-round or lottery selections has been all the proof James needed.
He’s trying to be Oklahoma’s next ‘Buddy.’
“Any time you go to practice every day with seniors, you’re going to follow their leader,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “Our seniors do such a good job, that it would be the hope that the young guys step in there. I think that they’ve done that in that regards to extra work and getting extra shots up. They see what the older guys do. They get in the gym a little bit more often.”
Good basketball instincts and college-ready size gave James a chance to be a contributor early, but it’s the lessons that he picked up from the player that he’s trying to emulate that will give him a chance to be more once Hield and Cousins move on from Oklahoma.
“It’s a routine now,” James said. “Staying at the gym every day, shooting after practice unless I have homework or something. Other than that, I’m here in the gym every day.”