Boom or bust: Buddy Hield strives to overcome NBA draft odds
The draft prospect has an NBA legend for a mentor — but can he measure up?
Buddy Hield is nervous. And he’s not afraid to admit it.
Hield has worked out for each NBA team picking second through sixth in Thursday’s draft and still has no clue who’s going take him. It’s certainly anxiety-inducing, but the former Oklahoma star has had help putting it all in perspective from another shooting guard who definitely knows what it takes to succeed in the NBA.
His mentor in this huge career-making moment? The recently retired All-Star and future Hall of Famer, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angels Lakers.
“He’s been a huge influence with the way he told me to approach the game,” Hield told The Undefeated on Wednesday. “He said that, ‘On draft night it doesn’t matter where you go. When you get to the league just do your work and stay focused on what you are trying to do.’ He said to keep competing as long as I can, just be the best I can be and push for greatness.”
The NBA lost one of its all-time great scorers and stars when Bryant, the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer, retired in April after his 20th season. While it will be hard for the NBA to ever replace the explosive five-time NBA champion, perhaps the closest prospect in this draft to Bryant is Hield.
The 2016 John R. Wooden and Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame College Basketball Player of the Year averaged 25 points and 5.7 rebounds per game last season and shot 45.7 percent from 3-point range as a senior for the Sooners. Though the 6-foot-5, 212-pounder may be most known for scoring 46 points in a triple-overtime loss at Kansas on Jan. 4, an instant classic.
Former Louisiana State star Ben Simmons learned how explosive of a scorer Hield is after he scored 32 points in a win over Louisiana State on Jan. 30.
“I thought we were about to win until he started shooting,” Simmons said. “He can shoot the ball really well. He’s a competitor. I love that about him. He’s a good player.”
Simmons is expected to be the No. 1 pick in the draft by the Philadelphia 76ers while the Lakers are expected to select Duke forward Brandon Ingram second. Providence guard Kris Dunn and Washington forward Marquese Chriss are expected to be selected ahead of Hield, as well. Simmons, Ingram, Dunn and Chriss’ future potential in the end could be deemed more attractive to an NBA team than Hield’s superior resume.
But like his mentor, Hield relishes the challenge to prove his worth.
“This doesn’t bother me,” Hield said. “I like to overcome obstacles. This is what I’ve dealt with my whole life. I’m ready for the challenge. When I go to the NBA, I’m going to turn my game up a lot more. I’m going to take it to a different level. Now, it’s a job for me. It’s really more serious.”
Bryant and Hield got connected through Bryant’s longtime basketball agent Robert Pelinka who they now share. The two have recently had several conversations, eaten meals and worked out together. During that session, Bryant taught Hield some of the footwork that’d been successful for him in the NBA. Tips, Hield said, that helped him perform better in his team workouts.
“The workout we had was terrific,” Hield said. “I learned so much about footwork, counters on footwork and other counters. He taught me a lot of stuff. Hopefully, when I get back [to Los Angeles], when I have some more time and he has some more time, I can learn more about footwork. It has been great for me and it helped me a lot during workouts.”
Hield also said the five-time NBA champion also gave him motivational words after Bryant attended his pro day at the Open Gym Premier in Anaheim, California, on May 27.
“The best story I have with him is how he adjusted from high school to the NBA,” Hield said. “Him being on the bench and having to work. And then after that, turning his game around to be the best he can be…
“He came to my pro day to support me. He told me good luck and congrats. He told me to keep working and it was going to be a fun process.”
Like Bryant, Hield says he is extremely confident and has swagger. Like Bryant, Hield says he expects to make every shot he takes. Like Bryant, Hield says he can’t wait for summer league so he can “shut up everybody” who doubts him.
And while there are many similarities between the two, Hield is quick to say there is only one Kobe Bryant.
“I’m Buddy. Kobe is a different level than me. I’m just Buddy. I’m a scorer. I’m a great kid. I like to smile. But when it comes to the court, I focus on my game and I take it very serious,” Hield said.
Hield is a native of the Bahamas who says he only listens to reggae music. He loves such reggae artists as Mavado, Vybz Kartel and Chronixx. And while Bryant may be his mentor in basketball, Hield is mentoring him on reggae.
“Yeah, I gave him some reggae. He said he needed some reggae,” Hield said.