No More Mr. Nice Guy: Buddy Hield Is Determined to Go Out on Top
What Kruger did have to ask of Hield was to carefully consider the pros and cons of leaving early for the NBA. The Sooners made the Sweet 16 a year ago, and Hield had won the conference’s top honor. He wasn’t a first-round lock but there was a chance, and he wanted to provide for his family back in the Bahamas.
“Buddy Buckets” was this close to being “Buddy Sooner than Later.”
“It was very close,” Hield says. “I talked to him like I wanted to go. But he laid it out for me. He told me about guys who came back and had great senior seasons. And I trusted him and what he was telling me. He has been through a lot. He has seen everything. He had seen the player I was and knew the player I could become and what I could do on the court.’
Hield ticked off the names Kruger put in front of him: Frank Kaminsky, Jimmer Fredette, Kemba Walker, Shabazz Napier. Walker and Napier went out as national champions. Kaminsky’s team played for the title just last year. And all four were first-round draft picks.
“It was his decision; we just provided information,” says Kruger, who was only too happy to coach another season in the Buddy system. “He’s a smart guy. He went through it all. Really what he decided to do was bet on himself. He decided, ‘I can do better,’ and that’s exactly what he has done.”
His draft stock has risen to the point it’s almost a given he’s a top-10 pick. Chad Ford has him going seventh overall in his latest mock draft for ESPN.com, thanks to the improvements he’s shown as a senior. Make no mistake, he’s no longer just a shooter. Consider the show he put on in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals. In posting 39 points against Iowa State, Hield made only two 3-pointers, the lowest amount in any of his 30-point games this season. When the Cyclones crowded him on the perimeter, he simply put the ball on the floor and blew by them. He also rose up for an alley-oop dunk (and one) that left the OU bench apoplectic.
Kansas coach Bill Self said after Hield’s career night in the Jayhawks’ 109-106 triple-overtime victory in Lawrence on January 4 that his guys “guarded our ass off against Buddy.” Hield shot 13 of 23, including 8 of 15 from distance. He added eight rebounds and seven assists. Not a bad night against a then-No. 1 team whose coach felt it had defended well.
But a loss is a loss. This is another subject that binds Kruger and Hield. Kruger’s stoicism belies his competitive streak; Hield’s effervescent, ever-present smile hides his. But make no mistake: Both hate to lose. At anything.
“When we lose, it leaves a bad taste,” Hield says. “I don’t like it. Seeing me fail on the court … I know I can do things better. I cost my team if I could have done something better. I hate it. I’m scared to lose, and I’m scared to fail.”