How Buddy Hield's game grew in the Bahamas

FREEPORT, Bahamas -- The three large, blue crates were stacked up in the corner. The queen-sized bed sat in the middle of the room -- which measured eight feet in length and a shade less than nine feet wide.

"Head to foot," said Coco Hield, Buddy Hield's sister.

That was the sleeping arrangement. Seven of them somehow crammed into one bed: B.J., Curvin, Coco, Chevez, Buddy, Pepper and Jennaya. Sleeping, until one would often become frustrated and roll onto the floor for the remainder of the night to get some shut-eye.

"It was uncomfortable, boy, trust me, you sleep very, very, very, very uncomfortable, you know?" Buddy's brother Chevez said. "So now you end up one just laying there sleeping in the same bed. Go on the floor. You just roll on the floor. Just get a sheet, a quilt."

Buddy, Oklahoma's high-scoring All-American guard who will play in the Final Four this weekend, agreed: "It wasn't easy."

Now I saw why.

After taking the 30-minute flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I was immediately welcomed by Chevez, Jordan Grant (Buddy's best friend) and Buddy's stepfather, Richard.

Many on the Grand Bahama Island struggle, especially since Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne ravaged the area and the already struggling economy in 2004.

Jackie Swann, "Mommy" to her family, was a single mother who often worked 24-hour shifts cleaning houses. She and her family called the Pinedale area of Eight Mile Rock home.

"A woman with seven children. Ain't nothin'," Coco said of the neighborhood perception of Swann and her children. "What else could you do? Don't expect nothin'. However they make it, they make it. That's what it was."

"Some people was, 'Nah, no, I ain't messin' with that,' " Chevez added.

We headed to Eight Mile Rock from the airport. The drive is about 20 minutes from the Grand Lucayan resort where I stayed. My view the next morning was spectacular -- kids on Jet Skis, tourists relaxing on the beach.

But those 20 minutes were a different world.

There are no street signs -- or even street names -- in Eight Mile Rock. No mail delivery. Dozens of dogs roam the streets, and there are abandoned houses throughout the neighborhood.

If you were searching for one of the Hield kids when they were younger, you were told to go find the house of Miss Cynthia, Buddy's grandmother, or "the woman who can't hear."

Now it's different. It's Buddy's house now -- and everyone knows where it is.

"The word is mischievous," Coco said of her brother. "And he brought life to all of us. When we had our moments where we reminisce about the past, whether it hurt or not, Buddy made fun of the situation, because he's the child that always reminds you that there's always light at the end of the tunnel. So he was that child that has that energy. He has that charisma."

Added Chevez: "Buddy's a mischievous boy. He could get in trouble. Boy, he could get himself in some trouble."

Hield's love for basketball started young, but there was no money for a hoop. So he and Chevez made one out of plywood and a milk crate. It started in the backyard, before moving to the street to give Buddy more range on his shot as he grew older.

"The crate is an everyday thing to us," Coco said. "Because you just need something where the ball can go in and come out. Sometimes, if you cut it-- if you don't cut it properly, the ball will get stuck."

Buddy and Chevez would sit in the back of the Church of God of Prophecy, so they could make a quick exit for the court while the pastor wasn't looking. One night, Buddy recalls, his mother left for church and he snuck off to the park for a tournament. He heard a van pulling up around 10 p.m., ran home, showered quickly and then pretended he was asleep.

"She came home and didn't fall for it," Buddy said with a smile. "She's only about 5-foot-2 and I was 6-foot, but no matter how short she was, she still slapped me and got a hanger or whatever to beat me. It was all worth it. It pushed me."

"Buddy lived there," Coco said of his time at the court. "Seven-o'clock in the morning. Sometime, 10, 11 at night. Mummy looking for him. You know, he's gonna get beaten. I have to cover up for him. Or we have to send Chevez quick or somebody to call him quick, because Mummy on the way. But he lived there."

Hield's work ethic is legendary now. Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger admits Hield and Isaiah Cousins are the hardest-working players he has ever coached -- and he has been at it since 1976. Sooners big man Ryan Spangler recalls the day Hield was in the gym at 6 a.m. and that was the first of four workouts. His siblings remember him being on the court early in the mornings and late at night, trying to perfect his shooting stroke.

Though Hield's stock has soared this season, he hasn't forgotten his roots. He gave his brother a list of nearly 10 people for me to meet such as Miss Linda, who still complains about Buddy not returning her grandson's basketball.

A makeshift crate hoop still sits a few houses down from Miss Cynthia's house, but now Buddy does most of his shooting in Norman -- where he has gone from a fairly anonymous recruit to a national player of the year frontrunner.

He thought about leaving Oklahoma after last season, but the feedback he received from NBA personnel was that he was a one-dimensional shooter who couldn't really score off the dribble.

So Hield went back to work -- and turned himself into a probable lottery pick in the upcoming June NBA draft.

When he signs that contract, he knows what he'll do. He'll take care of his mother and buy her a new house, and then probably do something for his grandmother.

"Buddy hasn't changed," Jordan Grant said. "Buddy's the same just how he was."

When he comes back home, he'll still make sure he walks the old neighborhood at Eight Mile Rock -- and might even make a few shots in the milk crate.