OKLAHOMA CITY – After twice affirming his dislike for a teammate, Oklahoma All-American guard Buddy Hield looked around for walk-on Bola Alade, humorously trying to see if he was lurking around a corner.
One day later, Alade laughed when he heard what Hield said and took it as a compliment. Alade watched from the bench Sunday night as Hield scored 36 points – 29 in the second half – against VCU to push the Oklahoma Sooners into the Sweet 16.
Afterward, Alade thought that he could have done better slowing down Hield.
“It’s a tough task. I would have been all in his grill,” Alade said. “He makes tough shots. He’s NBA ready right now. Sometimes it’s good defense, but it’s a better shot. That’s what happens to me a lot of the time.”
Alade would know. Nobody guards Hield like Alade, at least not as much as Alade.
Every day in practice, Alade and freshman Rashard Odomes are saddled with the responsibility of guarding the most prolific scorer in the NCAA Tournament. Alade is picked for his bulldog-like style and a willingness to get physical with Hield – in the mold of Kansas’ Frank Mason or other small, aggressive guards.
He’s given a little freedom to even foul Hield, doing everything possible to make it difficult for Hield to get off a clean shot. Alade has developed a bit of a reputation as a physical defender amongst the team.
“It’s tough trying to score a bucket on them,” Hield said. “They get the best of me. Sometimes, they try to get me frustrated. When I’m going against them in practice, they just try to get in my head. They do a good job.”
With a near 6-foot-8 wingspan, Odomes provides the other look – that of a long wing that can get up in Hield’s face while still keeping distance. Odomes, who has been more accepting of his role of late, has grown in confidence defending Hield. He said that going against the best player in the country every day has helped him improved as a player.
Hield gets annoyed with how far beyond the 3-point arc Odomes picks him up defensively – and the two have a tendency to trash talk each other on the practice court.
“Coach always talks to me about each day bringing energy and just getting better on my defense and make sure I’m guarding Buddy hard,” Odomes said. “He’s probably the best player in the country. If I can guard him well, I should be able to guard anybody well.”
Alade and Odomes “lock it down for the white team,” Alade said. Odomes walked by Alade in the locker room Sunday night and jokingly asked, “We?”
The duo has definitely made daily life tough for Hield. But it has helped prepare the Naismith finalist for just about every game scenario.
“It’s trying to simulate in a practice, what you get in a game,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “You can’t fully do it. The closer you get to it, the better prepared you are in a game. Buddy is doing a better job of moving away, changing pace, changing direction against the face guarding and the pressure defense.”