Buddy Hield discusses ‘warm welcome’ he’s received in New Orleans

He was the one who was supposed to be answering the questions, but New Orleans first-round pick Buddy Hield turned the tables on Pelicans fans during a Q&A session Wednesday night, firing off a series of queries for them.

“Where are some of the places you think I should go to eat around here?” asked the shooting guard, a question that immediately drew dozens of rapid responses – none naming the same restaurant – from residents of America’s premier city for food lovers.

“OK, so what’s the best place in the city for me to find some good Caribbean food?” the native of the Bahamas then asked.

That one drew laughter from a crowd of about 80 Pelicans supporters, who for perhaps the first time ever were unable to immediately provide an excellent local dining option.

While addressing some of his newest fans in the team’s practice facility, the 22-year-old discussed his early adjustment to the NBA, relating a few stories about why he’s happy to be drafted by a team based in the Crescent City.

“My experience has been great so far,” Hield said. “Everyone in New Orleans has been welcoming me as family. Everywhere I go, they always say, ‘Put on for the city, baaay-bee,’ ” he noted, briefly shifting to his version of a local accent.

“So l love the fans already. It’s been a warm welcome.”

It was probably fitting that Hield’s conversation with fans took place at the Metairie practice facility – the Oklahoma product has spent so much time there lately, he probably could’ve had his mail forwarded to 5800 Airline Drive. There have been several summer mornings when he’s beaten everyone to the office, other than perhaps the crack-of-dawn equipment staff.

“One thing about Buddy is he puts in the work. He comes in here in the morning and works out, then comes back at night,” Pelicans GM Dell Demps said. “We have a speaker system set up in this gym, and every night he’s been in town, I hear the Caribbean music at 5 o’clock, blasting.

“So I try to get all my phone calls in before 5,” Demps joked. “He’s a hard worker. He wasn’t a guy coming out of high school who was a top recruit. He made himself into the college Player of the Year.”

Asked by one Pelicans fan if he will have family moving to New Orleans to help him acclimate to becoming a pro, Hield said his mother will play a prominent role. Jackie Swann became a familiar face in the crowd among college basketball fans last season and moved to Norman, Okla., to support her son in college.

“She’s always going to be with me,” Buddy said. “She’s my spiritual inspiration. She’s the reason why I’m here today. She’s my role model, so I always keep my head on straight. She’s always there for me. I need her in New Orleans.”

Since the draft in June, Hield has also frequently mentioned the importance of his home country to his success, constantly showing appreciation for the widespread support he gets from the Bahamas. As Hield put it Wednesday, when the Pelicans selected him sixth overall in the NBA draft, they didn’t just select a player.

“You drafted the Bahamas,” Hield said with a wide smile.