The Most Inspiring Player in the Final Four: Buddy Hield

Discover the surprising story of the basketball player whose determination took him from a small township in the Bahamas to the quarter-finals of the NCAA basketball tournament.

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Posted in , Mar 29, 2016

The Most Inspiring Player in the Final Four: Buddy Hield

Even non-sports fans can be inspired by the Final Four of the NCAA Basketball Tournament this weekend. Many college athletes are seeing their dreams come true, but one stands out from the crowd: Buddy Hield, guard for the Sooners of the University of Oklahoma.

Hield, a leading candidate for National Player of the Year, grew up in a poor neighborhood in the Bahamas. His mother worked as a cleaning lady and took on multiple jobs to support her family. She also instilled a deep faith in Hield and his siblings, which bonds them, still—his mother even sends Hield Bible verses to bolster his confidence before big games.

While the NCAA tournament is the latest chapter in Hield's career, his inspirational story is rooted in family, faith and hard work.

Family
Born Chavano Rainier Hield in Eight Mile Rock, a township near Freeport, Hield was one of seven children. His mother, Jackie Swann, a woman of great faith and a positive outlook, frequently reminded her seven children, “We may not have a lot of things, but it’s enough.”

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A single mom, Swann cleaned houses for wealthy families and often worked a second job catering weddings. Not only did she she put food on the table, the family's door was always open to other kids from the neighborhood who needed a meal. As Hield put it in a story he wrote for theplayerstribune.com, "Everyone shared. I figured out a simple lesson. If you shared an extra piece of chicken today, maybe you’d get an extra drumstick tomorrow."

Swann and her kids frequently slept together on a pair of mattresses pushed together on the floor, and Hield recalls sneaking out of bed and tiptoeing quietly into the kitchen, where he would boil water for a bath. With six siblings, a mom and various other relatives living under the same roof, getting first crack at the bathtub was key.

“[Buddy] learned from hard times,” Swann told CBS Sports. “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.”

Faith
Swann instilled a reliance on God in her children, leading a family Bible study every morning and taking them to church every week. From the time they were toddlers, Swann encouraged her kids to pray.

“When you're down and you need somebody...there's God,” she told Hield and his siblings. “There's a plan for you down the line.”

Hield has admitted that, prior to the University of Oklahoma's recent matchup with the Oregon University Ducks—the game that sent the Sooners to the Final Four—he was feeling the strain. Nerves were getting the better of him, and he feared he would fail to perform in the game, letting his teammates, his coaches, and Sooner fans down.

It was a rare moment of doubt for the ebullient and positive young man, but his mother sent him Bible verses to focus on as he struggled to sleep the night before the quarter-finals.

Hield later said that Scripture helped calm him; when game time came, he delivered, scoring 37 points to tie an OU record for most points scored in an NCAA tournament game. After the final buzzer, Hield was quick to thank both God and Swann for getting him through a tough game.

“When I saw her, I just told her I made it,” Hield said. “I said I was going to get [to the Final Four], and I made it. I praise God because I couldn’t have done it without her. We shed a lot of tears.”

Hard Work
The neighborhood he grew up in had no public basketball courts, but as a child, Hield created his own hoops and backboards from scrap lumber, milk crates, and bicycle rims. He knew then that he wanted to be a basketball player—not just any player, but the best player. He told anyone who would listen that he was going to be like Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant and play in the NBA one day.

When Hield was invited to attend Sunrise Christian Academy, a prep school in Wichita, Kansas, he jumped at the chance. There, he continued to work on his game and his studies. He averaged 22.7 points per game his senior year at Sunrise, and drew the attention of college recruiters.

Hield signed on to attend the University of Oklahoma, and he's experienced a steady climb toward greatness ever since. He's earned a reputation as one of the hardest workers in college hoops, devoting countless hours in the gym toward improving his skills (but not neglecting his studies—Hield's earned Academic All-Big 12 honors two years running).

Hield's work ethic is legendary, and all that effort has certainly paid off. He's gone from averaging eight points a game his freshman season to more than 25 points per game as a senior. He was recently named the Big 12 Player of the Year for the second season in a row, and he was a unanimous selection for the first-team AP All-American squad.

"The way [Hield] plays the game with a smile on his face and the energy, if a college basketball fan can’t get excited about that, what can you get excited about?" said Oregon coach Dana Altman after his team fell to the Sooners in the round of eight. "He loves the game. He loves his teammates. He loves his coach."

While many people might credit Hield's success to his work ethic and the way he was raised, his mother refuses to attribute his success to anything but the faith that guides her life and Hield's. As Swann told newsok.com, “God did it. I believe it in my heart. You can tell me anything else. You can show me. But I'm going to continue believing.”

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