Buddy Hield

Oklahoma Athletics

Lost Pressure: How Oklahoma freshman phenom Trae Young ignores expectations and will get the Sooners back on track

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KANSAS CITY — Trae Young knew he had slipped up as soon as he said it.

Surrounded by reporters, the five-star freshman uttered a word he loathes, going so far as to refuse its very existence, when asked the pros and cons of staying in his hometown to be Oklahoma University’s star point guard.

“I know it’s a lot of pressure,” he said, wanting to reel the word back in as soon as it entered the atmosphere inside the Sprint Center at Big 12 media day Tuesday.

“I don’t know why I said pressure,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t use the word pressure. It’s just a lot on my plate, is what I say.”

“I don’t use that word. I’m going to hit myself later for saying that.”

Whatever word you want to use to describe it, the spotlight will be on Young this season as the centerpiece of the Sooners’ hoped bounce-back season following last year’s 11-20 record coming off a Final Four the previous season.

“He’s done a really good job of making it about his teammates and making it about others, the program,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said, “and he’s a guy that could go off individually and hasn’t done that. He’s very — he’s smart with regard to the value of doing things as a group and he knows, too, that he needs his teammates to play well and he’s doing everything he can to help encourage them and motivate them to do everything they can and certainly his teammates appreciate what he can do.”

The whole of Oklahoma knows what Young can do after he averaged 42.6 points per game as a senior at Norman North High School, which is all of 4 miles north of the Sooners’ Lloyd Noble Center home. He joins legends Blake Griffin, Wayman Tisdale and Jeff Webster as Oklahomans who stayed home with the Sooners after being a McDonald’s All-American.

That makes walking campus something of an event for Young.

“I’m the type of guy, I like to interact with a lot of people, like meeting new people,” he said. “To be able to see all the people on campus, to see what it’s like to be a college student, it’s been fun.

“Sometimes I’m late to class just because I’m getting stopped, but it’s fun. I love it.”

Young had plenty of opportunity to bolt from the familiarity of home to one of the country’s basketball factories that takes in highly-rated recruits and churns out highly-drafted prospects every single year.  He sought counsel from a pair of his peers in the same situation.

“People like Mohammed (Bamba),” Young said of the potential No. 1 draft pick now at Texas. “Me and him are really close. Him and my best friend (Missouri freshman) Michael Porter. We talk almost every day. Us three are really close.”

That allowed them to compare notes.

Lon Kruger (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

“We were both recruited by Kentucky and Kansas,” Bamba said, “and we just kind of picked each other’s brains over what we thought.

“It was just good to have someone you could relate to.”

In the end, though, Young’s decision centered on one simple truth.

“He wanted,” Bamba said, “to be home.”

Young now straddles something between savior and servant. The Sooners, of course, hardly need saving just 18 months removed from a Final Four, but an 11-20 season doesn’t exactly create endearing memories for anyone. Young has the talent to make an instant impact, but not just with his prodigious talent and prolific scoring.

“His ability to lead and bring in a group of people,” Bamba said. “The fact he was able to do it at these different camps where people don’t necessarily care about each other. The fact he was able to do it at camp, shows he’ll be able to do it anywhere.

“He was big on making sure he wouldn’t try to make a home run play. He’ll try to do different things to set it up, get the best shot possible. Which is what a point guard should do.”

The crazy-hyped freshman phenom who also happens to be the hometown hero operates in a somewhat delicate space when first arriving in a locker room. An ability to spread the love on the court goes a long way.

“Trae has outstanding skill,” Kruger said. “Anytime you’ve got a player like that, he’s got an opportunity to make players around him better by attracting attention, by driving and attracting help defender and kicking.”

Which is exactly what Young says he’s looking to do.

“I feel like I’m very prepared to come in, do what coach Kruger says, push the pace and do what he tells me to do,” Young said. “Me and him, we watch film all the time. Almost every day. That helps coming in and knowing what he wants.”

Young may have the most potential of any Sooner recruit since Blake Griffin stepped on campus a decade ago, but it’s a Sooner who was lightly regarded as a recruit and grew into a lottery pick that begs comparison. Buddy Hield came to Oklahoma with few believing his NBA prospects, but became one of the best in school history through a legendary work ethic. That drive is something that their mutual coach believes his newest star shares.

“I think that they’re both equally motivated,” Kruger said. “That’s the key. Whatever makes you love getting up and working to be better every day. I think both are kind of equal in that way, kind of from a different starting point. Both are very competitive, and both want to do really great things.”

A lofty comparison for a player who’s yet to take a competitive dribble. It’s one that a freshman, playing in his hometown, with the weight of massive expectation and a boundless professional future might shrink from.

Trae Young, though?

“There’s no such thing,” he said, “as pressure.”

Hield leads No. 7 Oklahoma past Oral Roberts 96-73

Associated Press
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NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Buddy Hield scored. Just like he usually does.

His defensive energy was just as critical – the senior had a career-high five steals to go with 30 points as No. 7 Oklahoma beat Oral Roberts 96-73 on Saturday.

“Buddy, especially in the second half, was active throughout, for sure,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “That’s great. Any time we can create that activity defensively – and steals often times convert to transition points – that’s great to see.”

Hield, a preseason All-America who had been in a bit of a shooting slump, was 9 of 15 from the field to fall one point short of his career high.

Jordan Woodard scored 19 points, Isaiah Cousins had 15 and Ryan Spangler added 13 points and eight rebounds for the Sooners (7-0), who won by at least 17 points for the sixth straight game. Oklahoma shot 62 percent in the second half to beat Oral Roberts for the 15th consecutive time.

Oklahoma, which entered the game leading the nation in field goal percentage defense, held the Golden Eagles to 35 percent shooting in the second half.

“That’s our go-to,” Spangler said. “That’s what we pride ourselves on, and that’s what we’re going to keep working on. I think if we play defense and make people take tough shots, we’re going to be hard to beat.”

The Sooners were strong again after rolling past No. 9 Villanova 78-55 on Monday at Pearl Harbor. Kruger expected his team to be focused, even after such a big-time game.

“We had three good days of practice,” he said. “We got back Tuesday and didn’t practice, then went Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. With the leadership of this group, that shouldn’t be a concern. These guys know what human nature’s about and how you’ve got to bounce back and play the next game and get better every day.”

Obi Emegano scored 29 points, Kris Martin had a season-high 15 points and Brandon Conley added 10 points and 11 rebounds for Oral Roberts (8-3).

The Golden Eagles tied the score at 32 on a jumper by Emegano. The Sooners responded with an 8-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer by Cousins. Oral Roberts closed the gap again, but Hield’s 3-pointer with 6 seconds left in the first half gave the Sooners a 43-38 lead.

Oral Roberts shot 53 percent in the first half, but committed eight turnovers. Martin scored 12 points in the first half, while Emegano had 11 despite picking up two early fouls.

The Sooners opened things up early in the second half. A 3 by Woodard, then a putback by Hield pushed Oklahoma’s lead to 63-48.

Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton said he thought his team played well against a Top Ten team.

“I didn’t want to get embarrassed, and I don’t think we did,” he said.

ON THE RISE

Woodard had never made more than three 3-pointers in a game heading into this season. He made six against Central Arkansas on Dec. 3 and four against Oral Roberts.

QUOTABLE

Woodard, on his switch from point guard to shooting guard: “I like whatever Coach has got me on the floor to do.”

STAT LINES

Oklahoma backup center Akolda Manyang had four blocks. The 7-foot center has 14 blocks in 67 minutes this season.

TIP-INS

Oral Roberts: The Golden Eagles beat intra-city rival Tulsa 70-68 last Saturday for the Mayor’s Cup. … They entered the day with just three wins all-time against Top Ten teams.

Oklahoma: Assistant coach Chris Crutchfield was an assistant at Oral Roberts from 2007 to 2011. … The Sooners had eight offensive rebounds and 11 second-chance points in the first half. … The Sooners, who led the nation in rebounds heading into Saturday, outrebounded Oral Roberts 36-35.

UP NEXT

Oral Roberts visits Missouri State on Wednesday.

Oklahoma hosts Creighton on Saturday.

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter (at)CliffBruntAP.

Kris Dunn, Georges Niang, Buddy Hield among college players at Nike Basketball Academy

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Saturday morning the first annual Nike Basketball Academy got underway in southern California, with the event hosting some of the top college and high school players in the country. Those in attendance will receive instruction from coaches as well as NBA players such as Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

The college roster doesn’t lack for talented players who should factor into the national Player of the Year conversations next season. Among those invited are Providence point guard Kris Dunn, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield and Iowa State forward Georges Niang. There are also two players in the group who have yet to play a game at the Division I level in LSU’s Antonio Blakeney and Ben Simmons.

LSU is one of three schools with multiple players in attendance. Arizona has two in guard Kadeem Allen (who redshirted last season and center Kaleb Tarczewski, and Gonzaga forwards Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer are representing the Bulldogs. Below is the list of college players in attendance at the camp, which runs through the weekend.

Kadeem Allen (Arizona)
Paris Bass (Detroit)
DeAndre Bembry (Saint Joseph’s)
Antonio Blakeney (LSU)
Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia)
Isaac Copeland (Georgetown)
Tre Demps (Northwestern)
Kris Dunn (Providence)
Daniel Hamilton (Connecticut)
Buddy Hield (Oklahoma)
Justin Jackson (North Carolina)
Damian Jones (Vanderbilt)
Shawn Long (UL Lafayette)
Georges Niang (Iowa State)
Gary Payton Jr. (Oregon State)
Jakob Poeltl (Utah)
Taurean Prince (Baylor)
Domantas Sabonis (Gonzaga)
Ben Simmons (LSU)
Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona)
Isaiah Taylor (Texas)
Jarrod Uthoff (Iowa)
Denzel Valentine (Michigan State)
Tyrone Wallace (California)
James Webb III (Boise State)
Troy Williams (Indiana)
Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga)

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield returning for senior season

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Already expected to be a good team in 2015-16, Oklahoma’s prospects for next season improved a great deal Friday morning as Buddy Hield announced that he will be back for his senior season. Last year’s Big 12 Player of the Year, Hield averaged 17.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in helping lead Lon Kruger’s program to 24 wins and its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2009.

With Hield returning the Sooners return four of the five players who started all 35 games this past season, with forward  TaShawn Thomas being the lone departure. And the combination of experience and talent should once again have Oklahoma in the mix for the Big 12 title alongside reigning regular season champion Kansas and two-time tournament champion Iowa State.

“I’m on a great team and we have a lot of unfinished business,” Hield said Friday. “I just can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year. I want to go to the Final Four. That’s always been a dream for me. Playing with these guys, for my coaches and for my university is a lot of fun.

“I’ve been with Isaiah (Cousins) and Ryan (Spangler) for three years and Jordan (Woodard) for two. We’ve got some young pieces. This is a fun group and bonding with them has been a big part of my life. Getting my degree is also really, really important to me.”

Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard will once again lead the way on the perimeter, with Ryan Spangler being the team’s best option in the front court. Players such as Khadeem Lattin, Jamuni McNease and junior college transfer Akolda Manyang will need to step up alongside Spangler in order to account for the loss of Thomas, but overall Oklahoma has the pieces needed to meet and possibly exceed their accomplishments of 2014-15.

DraftExpress projected Hield as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

College basketball’s eight most important NBA Draft decisions

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source:
Yogi Ferrell (AP Photo)

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: No one has more on the line with a little more than a week left before the NBA Draft’s early entry deadline than the Hoosiers, who will be waiting until April 25th to find out whether or not their star point guard will be back on the roster in 2015-16. Ferrell averaged 16.3 points and 4.9 assists last year, but more importantly, he was the point guard that made Indiana’s spread-out offensive attack so dangerous. You can’t guard Ferrell one-on-one, but you can’t help off of James Blackmon, or Robert Johnson, or any of Indiana’s myriad of shooters.

With Thomas Bryant set to join the program next season as well, the Hoosiers have already addressed their issue of rebounding, shotblocking and toughness in the paint. Now they just need their point guard back, because with him, they’re a preseason top 15 team. Without him? The NIT is possible.

READ MORE: Who has declared for the draft, and who is returning to school?

Ty Wallace, Cal: The Golden Bears struggled in Cuonzo Martin’s first season as head coach, but much of that was due to a lack of depth and some injuries. With Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews back, Kameron Rooks healthy, Stephen Domingo eligible and top five recruit Ivan Raab joining the program, Cal as the pieces to be a threat in the Pac-12. But, like Indiana, they need their point guard, Wallace, back. He averaged 17.1 points, 7.1 boards and 4.0 assists last season.

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: The Sooners are already losing Tashawn Thomas to graduation, and with Frank Booker transferring out of the program, Lon Kruger’s back court depth will already be tested next season. Hield, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, is good enough keep Oklahoma in and around the top 15, considering Ryan Spangler, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard all return. Without him, and the Sooners will have to scrap to ensure a tournament berth.

Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: Mark Few is already losing his starting back court of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell to graduation, and with all due respect to Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, that’s a loss that is going to be tough to overcome. Getting Przemek Karnowski and Domas Sabonis back ensures the Zags will have a formidable front line, but Wiltjer’s ability to spread the floor due to his scoring prowess creates all kinds of space on the interior. He’ll be a preseason all-american if he returns.

READ MORE: NBCSports.com’s Preseason Top 25

source: Getty Images
Kris Dunn (Getty Images)

Here’s the kicker for Gonzaga fans: It seems going pro is something Wiltjer is actually toying with, but at this point, he’s not an NBA player. But if he gets his degree and decides he wants to start making money playing basketball, can anyone really look down on him for it?

Kris Dunn, Providence: If Kris Dunn returns to school, we’re looking at a first-team all-american that is good enough to carry the Friars back to the NCAA tournament. Without Dunn, who is a late-first round pick, the Friars will likely be back in rebuilding mode. There’s a real chance he comes back, however. Improve his jumper, cut down on those turnovers, and he’s a lottery pick, potentially top ten.

Caris LeVert, Michigan: I’ll just get this out of the way now: I think it would be foolish for LeVert to return to school. He’s broken the same foot twice in the last year, and feet are not a part of the body that professional athletes want to mess with. Playing another year in college is a serious risk, especially if he’s not completely healthy by the start of the year. That said, NBA team are aware of this as well, which means he may have already fallen out of the first round. If he comes back and he’s healthy, we’re looking at an all-american that can climb right back up those draft boards.

With LeVert, Michigan should be really good as well. We all saw how well Beilein had his kids playing by the end of last season, and that was without LeVert or starting point guard Derrick Walton. With LeVert, they’re probably top 25-good. Without him, we’re likely looking at a bubble team.

A.J. Hammons, Purdue: When Hammons is engaged, he’s an all-Big Ten caliber player. This past season, he was engaged, and it helped get Purdue to the NCAA tournament. He’s a defensive menace with a developing post game that would give Purdue a pair of seven-footers on their front line. The Boilermakers still could make an NCAA tournament without him, but if he’s back, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

Jakob Poeltl, Utah: Poeltl is a borderline lottery pick, and it would seem sensible for him to head off to the NBA. But there actually seems to be some doubt in whether or not he is going to go, and if he does decide to come back, the Utes will have at their disposal one of the best big men in the Pac-12. With Poeltl, they should make a second-straight NCAA tournament despite the fact they lose Delon Wright. Without him, they’re probably going to end up being a bubble team.

Tom Izzo, No. 7 Michigan State advance to Elite 8 with 62-58 win over No. 3 Oklahoma

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Michigan State, the No. 7 seed in the East Region, defeated No. 3 Oklahoma, 62-58, on Friday night inside the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. The Spartans will play No. 4 Louisville for a shot at the Final Four.

The Spartans held off a late comeback bid from the Sooners, hitting all six free throws in the final 80 seconds of regulation.

Travis Trice had another good showing in the NCAA tournament with a game-high 24 points while Denzel Valentine added 18. Buddy Hield led Oklahoma with 21 points.

It wasn’t until 9:30 left in the game that Michigan State took its first lead. Just over two minutes later, Oklahoma would recapture the lead with a TaShawn Thomas layup. However, that’d be the Sooners only field goal in an eight and half minute span. That slump didn’t snap until Hield hit a second-chance three with just over a minute to go, cutting the deficit to 58-56. From there Michigan State closed it out from the line.

The win for Michigan State sets up Sunday’s matchup between two coaching greats — Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo — who have both been terrific this March. As I mentioned earlier in the night, Pitino dismissed Chris Jones from the program last month, yet finds his team in another Elite 8; the third time in four years.

This time last year, No. 4 seeded Michigan State was a trendy pick to be the national champion. Every four-year player under Izzo had reached at least one Final Four entering the 2014 NCAA Tournament, however, eventual champion UConn ended that streak in the Elite 8 along with the careers of Adreian Payne and Keith Appling. Sophomore Gary Harris decided to declare for the NBA Draft, leaving Izzo with some experience, but no stars.

That was apparent in November when the Spartans played the role of odd man out in the Champions Classic double-header. Each of the other participants — Kentucky, Kansas and Michigan State’s opponent that night, Duke — all had their share of McDonald’s All-Americans, compared to only one (Dawson) for Michigan State.

Yet, here they are, relying on the play of Trice, Valentine and Dawson, all of whom have had their share of NCAA tournament experience.

Two unlikely runs converge on Sunday between Louisville and Michigan State, but only one will continue on the road to Indianapolis.