Thwp, thwp thwp.
Stay long enough after an Oklahoma Sooners men’s basketball practice and the sound starts to become familiar.
Thwp, thwp thwp.
Show up early and find All-American guard Buddy Hield in his element: Alone and often in quiet, just the way he likes it.
Thwp, thwp thwp.
The cadence of made shot after made shot is almost mesmerizing. Every so often, there’s a quick rattle of the rim before the ball falls through the hoop. Even more rarely, a clanging of iron throws off the beat.
Thwp, thwp thwp.
Shot after shot. Some times Hield is alone. Over and over again. Some times, he has a student manager feeding him passes. There’s a rhythm to the player whom Hield has become – a potential player of the year candidate. His jump shot, one that is bound to find a place in the NBA, has been refined. He transformed it over time, becoming one of the nation’s best 3-point shooters.
It provides the rhythmic bass beat of Hield’s life now: Thwp, thwp thwp.
The Reggae music that he occasionally plays through the Lloyd Noble Center speakers fills the empty arena and provides a glimpse at who Hield was just a few years earlier. Hield reminds himself every day where he came from and what he has done to reach this point.
He doesn’t believe in luck. He’s not at Oklahoma by accident. He’s not making hundreds of shots a day by some stroke of chance or good fortune.
“I believe in favor,” Hield said. “God has given me favor.”
Over the years, Kyle Lindsted had some success finding Bahamian players at an annual showcase in Grand Bahamas. Lindsted, who is now an assistant coach at Wichita State, was the head coach at Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas six years ago when a former player’s mother casually pointed out a player, Chavano “Buddy” Hield, during the annual showcase.
Hield was a skinny kid, maybe about 6-foot-1, with a goofy smile, dusty hair and tattered clothes to match most of the boys coming in off the street. He was the same kid who Oklahoma assistant coach Chris Crutchfield, who was then an assistant at Oral Roberts, saw during a scouting trip to the Bahamas three years earlier. As a 13-year-old boy, Crutchfield observed Hield walk into a crowded gym and draw attention and praise from even the best players.
Back then, he was just ‘Jackie’s Boy.’
Linsted would never go back to see Hield play in the Bahamas. Hield was in the spring of his sophomore year, running out of time to transfer to the United States to play high school basketball and be recruited by some of the top programs around the country. What Linsted noticed that day wasn’t just Hield’s game. At first, it was his personality. Laughter followed Hield wherever he went.
“I just kind of thought, ‘Man, this kid has serious charisma and leadership ability,” Linsted said. “Just off-the-court stuff, what I had seen, really intrigued me to what he was doing on the court. He was not even close to being the best talent there. . . . He made shots. He was very vocal. He was a leader. I just fell in love with him.”
In the months leading up to the showcase, there was intense pressure. Hield didn’t have transportation growing up. He had to find rides around the island, catching the bus sometimes and not telling his mother because she’d worry that he didn’t have money for food. He didn’t have access to a gym, a basketball court, basketballs or even shoes.
In an island nation that is athletically focused on track, Hield was a basketball player.
“We didn’t have access to nothing,” Hield said. “Things you wanted as a kid, you couldn’t have because we were limited and unfortunate.”
Hield prepared leading up to the showcase every year, hoping he’d catch a coach’s eye. Failure to impress would have been a letdown in Hield’s mind, a letdown that could have turned him into just another lost talent on the island. Hield didn’t think he was the best player on the court, but he knew he was the most confident. That’s something that hasn’t changed.
“I have always had a chip on my shoulder,” Hield said. “If someone says somebody is better than me, I’m going to find a way to shine. . . . I always found a way to take over the spotlight. It was something I always craved.”
The idea of favor is something Hield and his brothers and sisters learned from their mother and their Christian upbringing. It’s a belief that God gives to those who work for what they want. Prior to the day Hield met Linsted, he knew basketball was his way out. The showcase gave him that chance.
Hield’s older brother Kervin defined favor in a very clear way. He said God can turn on a faucet to fill a bathtub, but a person has to get up and get in the water.
“You have to show God that you want it,” said Kervin Hield, 28. “If you don’t show God, then it’s not going to come. . . . If you don’t have belief that you want it or you don’t show God that you want it, then it’s not going to come. It’s not going to happen.”
Buddy Hield had worked hard his whole life, routinely playing basketball in the streets until sunset. Through Linsted, Hield found favor.
He left the Bahamas for Kansas and two years of high school basketball. Meanwhile, Crutchfield moved from Oral Roberts to Oklahoma and mentioned the charismatic Bahamian to new Sooners’ coach Lon Kruger.
Six years after Hield arrived in the United States, during his final season with the Sooners, he averaged 25.1 points per game – second in the nation and first among Power 5 Conferences. Hield set program and Big 12 Conference records. He’s a first-team All-American, a back-to-back Big 12 Player of the Year and a contender for national player of the year.
But at first, Hield didn’t get much of a second look.
When Hield first got to Wichita, Kan., Lindsted wanted to show him off to a few prominent D-I coaches, believing that Hield would be great at the next level.
“’Coach, he’s not a Division-I player,’” Linsted remembers the collective group telling him about Hield. “But Buddy believed, and I believed. It’s really his work ethic that made him what he is. We brought him here, and we put him in a really good environment to work hard. That’s what he did.”
When Hield lost at a road game at Sunrise Christian, and he lost very few games overall, he wouldn’t sleep in his hotel bed. Linsted remembers Hield saying that he didn’t deserve a hotel bed. That’s how seriously Hield took the game – and how intense of a competitor he still is.
It took a few years, but Hield turned a from-the-hip jumper into the quick, pure release that has made him the most dangerous perimeter weapon in the nation. He has become a better ball-handler and a better defender, rounding out his game from the athletic slasher that he was when he showed up in Norman.
He worked hard academically at Sunrise Christian and assimilated into a brand-new culture, while at the same time teaching a few Midwesterners about island life.
“What he’s done though is really, really unbelievable,” Crutchfield said. “I look at him now like that isn’t even the same kid that I saw seven years ago. That isn’t even the same kid. That’s just how rare it is. Guys transform but he’s taken advantage of every single opportunity that he’s had to get him to this point.”
Thwp, thwp thwp.
Hield is guaranteed only two more games at Oklahoma. There’s a maximum of nine games left in his collegiate career, just enough time for him to accomplish his bigger goals.
Thwp, thwp thwp.
There he is though, in the dim light of the Oklahoma practice gym putting up shots all by himself. The metronomic tempo, the calming sound, proves that Hield is still working.
Hield knows he’s here – not by luck – but by hard work and favor.
“He never leaves anything like that to chance,” Linsted said. “He’s here by the smallest of margins, but at the same time, he never had a chance of failing because of who he is. It’s just weird. Him and I kind of always treated it like he was going to make it. Now, when we talk about things, it’s like, ‘Yeah, everything is where we thought it would be, like we’re not surprised by any of it.’
“That’s how I saw him the day I laid eyes on him, and that’s how he saw himself.”