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February 12, 2014

Hield's revamped shot changed his future

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Buddy Hield sat nearly still -- because he's never really sitting still -- in a red folding chair inside the men's basketball gym at Lloyd Noble.

While he sits nearly still, there's a basketball between his legs. It's a good bet that if Hield's in a gym there's a basketball in his hands.

"Sometimes when I don't have it in my hands, I feel like I'm losing my touch on the court. I just feel comfortable with it," Hield said.

Oklahoma assistant Chris Crutchfield has spotted Hield as early as 7 a.m. getting up shots in a vacant gym. But that's not the first time Crutchfield saw him.

SCOOPHD: S&S - SOONERS SWEEP REG. SEASON VS. BAYLOR

video by Eddie Radosevich

The first time Crutchfield saw Hield the 6-foot-4 sophomore guard was quite a bit shorter and 13 years old. Crutchfield was an assistant coach up the turnpike at Oral Roberts then and had tripped to the Bahamas to comb the islands for players he thought could play.

It was on one of those trips that Hield, a kid with dust in his hair and a wide grin, drew Crutchfield's attention. Hield was rail thin, confident and shot the ball like he was John Wayne -- always straight from the hip, always hitting his mark.

Crutchfield only needed to watch him for a short time to know the talent, the ability to play Division I basketball at high level, resided within the limbs of the kid everyone called "Buddy." Later Crutchfield sought out the fella running the showcase after watching Hield.

"That kid, he's going to be a player," Crutchfield said.

He was right, but he also knew there was work left to do.

'HE'S A WORKER'

Before Hield began his freshman year at OU, the Sooner coaching staff began the two-year process of changing the way Hield performed one of the fundamental aspects of the game: shooting.

Crutchfield the staff knew Hield's shot took too long to develop and his release was too low to be effective in the Big 12. For OU to run Hield off screens and make him into a scorer from 15 feet and out, he couldn't shoot like John Wayne anymore. He had to be quicker than that.

"In this league, you've got to get open faster," Crutchfield said. "You've got to get shots off faster."

The first phase was raising the level of Hield's shot. Last season, Hield spent time after practice putting up shots on the Sooners' Gun Shooting Machine. While the machine, along with coaching, helped raise Hield's shooting position it didn't help how quickly he released the ball.

There were moments during the 2012-13 season where defender would be on top of him before he could get the ball above his head. Sometimes he forced bad shots because of it. Sometimes he'd be open, pause before letting the ball go and then be stifled by a defender.

During the last offseason though, the coaching staff found a way to fix Hield's slow release. They put him on clock.

The staff devised a drill for Hield where he would have to put up an assigned number of shots in only one or two minutes. The drill forced Hield to become quicker with his release, making the act of shooting more instinctual and less mechanical. Hield was constantly in the gym working on it.

"He's one of those guys when he locks in on something, you know he's going to get pretty good at it," Crutchfield said. "He's a worker. He wants to reach the highest level, and you're starting to see a little bit of it now."

'GIVE EVERYBODY CONFIDENCE'

This year's brand of Sooner basketball is fast. Oklahoma is fast to the boards. Fast to the bucket. Fast on the break.

According to kenpom.com, the Sooners average the 11th most possessions per game (72.5) in Division I and ranked 11th in average possession length (15.2 seconds). This is no secret to the folks who've been playing close attention to OU this year.

With Big 12 leading rebounder Ryan Spangler pulling down boards, OU frequently put up more shots than its opponents. And no Sooner puts up more shots than Hield.

Since senior Cameron Clark has gone through a phase of fits and starts lately, Hield has assumed the position of OU's leading scorer. In fact, Hield's scoring average has raised with the level of competition the Sooners play.

Since beginning league play, he's averaged 18.3 points per game. He says his need to score comes from his love of team.

"I just try to make shots to give everybody confidence," Hield said. "Because it doesn't matter who scores I just want to give everybody confidence, so the next time they shoot the ball they know their shots going in."

Heading into OU's second leg against Texas Tech at 7 tonight in Lloyd Noble, Hield averages 17 points per game. That's nearly 10 points higher than the 7.8 a game he averaged as a freshman.

OU coach Lon Kruger has delighted in watching Hield as well as fellow sophomore Isaiah Cousins grow up over the last couple years.

"(Hield) and Isaiah, those guys spend so much time in the gym, and they've both improved their shooting so much as a result of that," Kruger said. "When guys work that hard and invest that much time, it's great to see them rewarded with good results come season."

Across the board Hield's numbers are up, though he's only playing an average of about five more minutes this season than last. While he's shooting a higher percentage from floor this year at 46.3 percent, it is his 3-point shooting that has made him one of the top scorers in the league.

Last season Hield was good for less than a 3-pointer a game. This year he's worth at least two. On a night like the one he played last Saturday against Baylor, he can catch fire quicker than a wood-burning stove.

After making just 19-of-80 3-pointers (23.8 percent) as a freshman, Hield has already tripled his makes from beyond the arc. Through 24 games, he's converted 61-of-153 shots from deep range.

His 39.9 percent 3-point shooting ranks among the league's top 3-point shooters, and he has the highest effective shooting field goal percentage of any guard on the team.

"Now it's getting to the point where I feel like I can shoot it from anywhere on the basketball court now," Hield said.

And now Hield is having the kind of success Crutchfield admitted not even he foresaw all those years ago in the Bahamas. To Crutchfield, Hield is already so far ahead of where he thought he might be, and he couldn't be happier for him.

"I know where he's from, and I know what he's been through to make it to this level," he said. "Any time you have a kid that you've recruited and you're with on a day-to-day basis like that, he's kind of like my son almost."

"Everything he goes through, you feel it. Even if it's good times or bad times, you feel everything that he feels because you're right there with him. And you know where his heart is."

Hield's jovial heart is on his sleeve beating right next to the basketball in his hand.



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