Buddy Love is gone, taking his “hey, mon" good vibes with him. And the college game will be the lesser for it. From his megawatt smile to his ridiculous range, former Oklahoma star Buddy Hield was a one-man college basketball show, a what-will-he-do-next performer who rarely failed to deliver. He likely won’t be matched, or even replaced.
But is there at least a good substitute to captivate audiences as Hield did? Someone who has either Hield's game or his personality -- or ideally, a hint of both -- to make college basketball fans sit up and take notice?
Here are a few decent candidates:
Devonte' Graham, Kansas: It only makes sense for the first player on this list to be the guy who out-Buddy-ed Buddy. Graham torched Oklahoma for 27 points last season in Kansas’ Big 12-clinching win at Norman, shooting 8-of-13 from the field while also guarding Hield, holding him to 5-of-15 shooting. A torrid 44.1 percent shooter from the 3-point arc in 170 attempts last season, Graham has the tools to score in Buddy Buckets and isn’t shy about flashing a toothy grin when he gets it going. Graham's personality tends more to the edgy side -- even sort of arrogant -- but it’s a lot of fun to watch. He also has a backstory more improbable even than Hield’s venture from Jamaica to Oklahoma. Graham was supposed to play college ball at Appalachian State, but when his stock rose rapidly, he opted for a postgraduate year. Then-Appalachian State head coach Jason Capel refused to release Graham from his scholarship, but Graham waited it out and when Capel was fired, Graham was free to go. He then went from the Sun Belt Conference all the way to Naismith Drive in Kansas. That’s a long way down the yellow brick road, Toto.
Grayson Allen, Duke: To some, Allen is the anti-Hield, a player fans long to loathe more than love. His tripping tendencies didn’t help things on that end last season. But before the attention turned sour, Allen played with personality and spunk -- recall his coming-out party in the 2015 national championship game. To his credit, Allen kept the same fire even when people not cheering for the Blue Devils changed their opinions of him. And for those willing to step away from the perception and look at the player, they ought to see more good than bad -- a tenacious baller who works exceptionally hard at his game. Those are traits Hield would appreciate. Plus, when Allen gets it going, there aren’t many shooters and/or scorers in the college game who can keep up with him. With a loaded Duke roster, Allen likely won’t have to do as much this season, but don’t think that will negate his impact. He knows firsthand what it means to play for Duke, for better or worse, and will remain a critical cog in the Blue Devils’ machine.
Harry Giles, Duke: He’s the No. 1 freshman in a class that has a lot of really good freshmen, which automatically means we will all be paying attention to Giles. Wildly talented and not shy about his goals -- he has publicly stated that he came to Duke to win a national championship -- Giles also is wildly likable. Simply put, he’s a good kid. He’s more Tim Duncan than Joe Namath, preferring to let his game speak for him rather than shout out his own worth, but he’s already comfortable with the trappings of fame. Giles has probably been asked to pose for more selfies than most people twice his age, and he rarely says no. Oh, and by the way, he’s a really good player. Before a second torn ACL hijacked his high school career, Giles averaged 23.9 points and 12.5 rebounds per game and picked up a gold medal as part of the U-19 U.S. team.
Miles Bridges, Michigan State: He can touch the top of the backboard, which means essentially he can fly. Bridges, another crazy-talented freshman, has the sort of skills guaranteed to make the highlight reel, such as the between-the-legs dunk he threw down earlier this summer. But Bridges also can drain shots from the perimeter in Buddy-esque fashion, scoring 35 points in the Spartans’ Moneyball Pro-Am Championship. Michigan State fans will automatically be prone to love him -- he’s the latest in the line of the Flintstones, the successful pipeline of players to come from Flint, Michigan, to East Lansing -- but national fans might come around rather quickly, too. He’s the rare combination of power and skill, the sort who will make people stop and take notice.
Markelle Fultz, Washington: So for those who don’t remember, Hield wasn’t Hield right away. In fact, as a freshman, the future scoring machine relied on his defense to get a little playing time from Lon Kruger. Countless hours in the gym -- sometimes pre-dawn even -- turned Hield into college basketball's player of the year. Fultz found his groove a little earlier than Hield, but the point guard went from a kid who couldn’t crack the varsity roster at famed DeMatha Catholic High School to a five-star recruit via the same path Hield took: ridiculously hard work. The result is a player whose game is so effortless that sometimes you fail to realize just how incredibly good Fultz is -- and then he does something to remind you. This summer Fultz had one of those urban-legend moments at a Seattle-area junior college, unleashing a windmill dunk that left desperate Washington fans salivating.