Oklahoma's Buddy Hield fueled by his roots of growing up in Bahamas

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Don't let Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield's smile fool you.

Hield, last year's Big 12 Player of the Year, is one of the most competitive people you'll ever meet. A person with a fierce desire to prove people wrong and a person who knows when to crank up the intensity. But still, both he and those closest to him will tell you that few minutes in the day go by without Hield, a proud native of the Bahamas, flashing his pearly white teeth in a friendly manner. 

"That's my 'Bahamian Swagger,' " Hield told CBS Sports, managing a grin even while catching his breath after a game last month at Adidas Nations.

"You can literally tell when he walks into the office," Oklahoma assistant coach Steve Henson said about Hield. "The whole place lights up. Same thing in the locker room, training room, anywhere he goes. He just has a very infectious personality and puts people in a good mood. It’s a terrific thing, and that’s just who he is every single day.”

That 'Bahamian Swagger' has always been something that Hield has embodied and developed while growing up in the island chain with his single mother and six brothers and sisters.

And it wasn't always easy.

***

Chavano Hield was the fifth child born to Jackie Braynen, who promptly came up with a nickname for her son with the help of some friends, just like she did for most of her children. It also came with a little help from the popular Fox comedy "Married ...With Children."

"When he was just this little baby, my girlfriend one day looked at him -- knowing I watch the show every day -- and said 'Oh my God, he looks like Bud Bundy," Braynen said. "So we would call him Bud. But then there was this drug dealer in the neighborhood who died, and my other girlfriend came over and said 'we can't have him named after a drug dealer, so call him Buddy.' And it just stuck on him."

The family had each other, and had fun together growing up in what they basically describe as a village near Eight Mile Rock, just outside of Nassau on Grand Bahama Island.

Said Hield: “It was kind of a rough neighborhood, but I’m glad I grew up there. It taught me the ropes."

Braynen and Buddy's father separated when he was "10 or 11", leaving her as the main influence in Hield's life for a majority of his adolescence. 

"I learned a lot from my mother and my uncles and my grandparents," Hield said. "My mother is like a mother and a father to us. My mom was in my life the whole time. I always listened to her. She taught me right from wrong. She mentored me and the other kids. To be honest, she always scared us not to do bad things. I didn’t want to fall into traps, and I wanted to be better than some of the other kids growing up in the community. I wanted to do something different."

With seven children and no husband, Braynen had to work three jobs cleaning other peoples' houses to support her kids while living in Buddy's grandmother's house.  The kids had to make do with what they could. In Buddy's case, that involved finding innovative ways to play the sport that he quickly learned to love -- basketball. He stayed outside as often as possible in parks, or even sometimes created a makeshift hoop out of what his mom described as a milk crate taped to a lightpole. If it wasn't a crate, he would take the spokes out of his bicycle tires and create a hoop that way by attaching it to the lightpole.

"He learned from hard times," Braynen said. "Growing up here, it's not a hand-out. You have to work for what you want. But if you put in that hard work, you can succeed."

While the caring, kind, smiling version of Hield is the one that those on the outside know best, there's also another side to him that few recognize until they spend time near him. He's one of the hardest workers in college basketball, and it's something that developed early in his life.

"What fuels him is when you tell him he can’t," Braynen said. "That’s food for him, that’s energy. This is what people don’t understand. You could tell him right now, ‘you’re not going to make it.’ But it goes back to when he was a little child, with people telling us he’s not going to make it. That he’s not going to amount to nothing or that we're not going to amount to nothing as a family."

***

Kyle Lindsted saw Hield's desire immediately while he was coaching Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kan. 

"I went down to a showcase every year to watch young Bahamian kids play that are looking for high schools in the states," said Lindsted, now an assistant coach at Wichita State. "I saw Buddy and immediately offered him a scholarship. I just kind of fell in love with him and his game and his personality. I guess you could say that I got lucky."

When Lindsted first saw him, Hield was "6-1, 120 pounds soaking wet," but what caught his eye just as much as his play was an infectious personality, as he moved from person-to-person in the stands in the Bahamas making them smile and chuckle. 

"Buddy was one of those guys that was famous before he was famous," Lindsted said. "He just had a magnet to himself, and that was his personality. It seemed like everyone just wanted to be near him in the stands at the showcase, and I noticed that everyone had a smile on a face by the time he walked away from them." 

But once he got to Sunrise Christian as a junior in 2010, Hield got to work. Sunrise Christian has terrific facilities, and Hield used them every chance he got, be it in the weight room, in the gym, or putting in extra hours on the floor. He grew three inches in his time in high school, and bulked all the way up to 205 by the time he left for college.

It all goes back to that drive that he cultivated back in the Bahamas. Lindsted calls him one of the most competitive people he's ever met -- he hates to lose in sports trivia games just as much as he hates to lose on the floor. Simply put, the guy won't let up, and will work every single hour of the day if you let him. It's something that Oklahoma's staff noticed immediately upon his arrival to their program.

"I can't describe to people the number of hours he puts in the gym," Henson said. "His freshman year, we found out on the afternoon on game days he wasn't even leaving the court. Most guys go eat pre-game, then run back to the dorm or go back to their apartments. He wasn't even doing that. He was just shooting all afternoon. Then was there every morning early, just working, working, working. Don't get me wrong, he has a lot of natural ability, but he's just an absolute gym rat in every sense of the word."

Lindsted remembers a conversation he had with Oklahoma's staff about Hield's work habits his freshman year.

"I tried to tell the Oklahoma coaches that you've never seen anything like this, but even his freshman year in college I remember them telling me to call him and tell him to rest his legs and rest and quit shooting and quit working out so much," Lindsted said. "I was just like, well, I can try, but I have my hands full. You literally have to lock the balls up. You just physically have to lock them up to keep him out." 

***

That sheer will and energy is the driving force behind what is his ultimate goal: the NBA. Most college players will sugarcoat their professional dreams by serving of platitudes of the college game or simply by saying they're taking things one step at a time. However, Hield is quite forward with what he wants to do. It's why he went around to every event on the summer circuit that he could this offseason: to get in front of NBA scouts so that they can see what he brings.

"Yeah, my goal is still to come back and win the Big 12 Tournament and win the Big 12 Championship and win a national championship and try to go to the Final Four," Hield said. "But everyone wants to try to get to the ultimate goal. That's why we're here at Adidas Nations, to show the scouts what we can do. Not to be cocky or speak for everybody, but that's just what everyone's trying to do I think."

Hield actually believed that he wouldn't be at Oklahoma right now, going so far as to tell his mother during the season that he was going to the NBA after his junior year when she came to visit Norman in February. However, after he couldn't be guaranteed to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, he decided to return and improve his game to where he makes himself impossible to pass up. 

After scoring 17.4 points per game in 2014-15 and being named a third-team All-American, there isn't much for Hield to work on as a Division I off-guard. In the offseason, however, he has worked on his ball-handling ability, his leadership on the floor, and his ability to finish at the rim with better explosiveness. He also said he wants to be making smarter decisions this year, as that's what he believes NBA scouts are looking for. 

"I came back to handle the ball and show them what I can do," Hield said. "You tell me something I can't do, I want to work on it and show you I can do it. So I've been working on my ball-handling and the ability to create shots. We have three more months until the season starts, and you better believe I'm not going to stop until I'm where I want to be."

And although he is close to achieving his ultimate goal, Hield hasn't changed from the fun-loving kid who grew up in the Bahamas.

"I want to knock him out sometimes," Braynen said while laughing. "Buddy comes home, and he's very playful around the kids, but nags everyone. It goes back to the younger days when he would nag and trouble them all the time. But he's grown up to be very thoughtful, very kind. He'll call me all the time and ask if I need this or that. He's a lot of fun and he loves his brothers and sisters to death. That's Buddy. He is just very caring. He cares about people. That's what I love about him. He's not selfish. If there's nothing else I love about Buddy, it's that he's not a selfish person, and that's very important to me."

Buddy Hield (USATSI)
Oklahoma's Buddy Hield changed his mind and will return for his senior season. (USATSI)
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