Pelicans guard Buddy Hield

Buddy Hield track experience in Bahamas aids his conditioning on basketball court

by Jim Eichenhofer

As they evaluated Buddy Hield throughout his college career, New Orleans Pelicans front-office members started noticing a distinct trend during the second half of Oklahoma’s games: While other players tired, the 6-foot-4 shooting guard tended to only get stronger, showing few signs of fatigue. Among several of Hield’s headline-grabbing performances in 2015-16, he seemed to be moving at a faster late-game pace than other players on the floor, including when he deposited a career-best 46 points in a triple-OT showdown with Kansas. He also shot a blistering 7/8 from three-point range in the second half of a win at LSU; in the NCAA Tournament, he racked up 29 second-half points to beat VCU.

While talking to Oklahoma’s strength and conditioning staff, the Pelicans learned that Hield’s extensive background in track – the most popular spectator sport in his native Bahamas – was one factor behind the 22-year-old’s elite endurance on the basketball floor.

“His stamina is out of this world,” Pelicans Director of Player Personnel David Booth said. “He doesn’t get tired. Because he doesn’t get tired, when the defense wears down, he’s still going at a full clip. He’s still sprinting the floor in transition and is able to make those plays with freshness. To me, that’s very telling of why he was able to average 25 points. He didn’t have many drop-offs throughout games. His conditioning was probably the best in the draft. That has a lot to do with it.”

Hield agrees that his background in track as a youngster helped him greatly when he made the transition to focusing primarily on basketball. As a senior in high school – the last time Hield competed in the 800-meter run – he finished in 1:55, an excellent time for a teen, particularly one who was not training regularly for track. By comparison, the world record in the 800 is 1:40.91, set in the 2012 London Olympics. The all-time U.S. high school record is 1:46.45.

“Fourteen seconds is a lot,” Hield said, referencing the gap between his personal best 1:55 and the world record. “But that was with no training. It’s still good, but I didn’t train for it. I had stopped training for several years.

“I was good (in track),” he continued, grinning. “I was a bad man. I was always a bad man on the track.”

Hield was what’s known as a middle-distance runner in the sport, usually participating in the 800, 400 or one-mile races. He believes those events helped improve his ability to not get winded as quickly on the basketball court.

“Being a middle-distance runner, I was in good condition,” he said. “I can go for miles and miles, where once I get my second wind, there’s no telling how long I can go until I have to stop. I feel like it was always in God’s plan, being a track athlete and conditioning yourself really well, and then transitioning to basketball. I’m one of those guys who is relentless and never stops. You can tell when some (opponents) are tired. I just smile and think, ‘I got ‘em.’ ”

“Buddy’s always had a very high motor,” said Lon Kruger, Hield’s head coach at Oklahoma. “He loves to play and is in the gym all the time, regardless of how much his teammates will be in there – he’ll be in there more. His game has matured. He’s gotten bigger and stronger. He’s highly-conditioned and can run all day.”

Hield said he has no regrets about moving away from track as his focus, partly because he’s enjoyed participating in basketball more. As a youngster, Hield – whose mother also ran track – had lofty aspirations to become a world-class runner, but they eventually subsided.

“Track is only fun when you watch it,” he said, smiling. “But for the person who is going through it, there is a lot of buildup and anxiety, and you feel like you want to go to the bathroom six times (before the race). Your stomach is cramping up.

“It’s fun watching it, but preparing for it and you running it is not. Say you’re running the 800 meters, you’re paranoid the whole day until the event comes. When the event comes, you try to get it over quickly. You don’t want to fail. And then they only remember the person who finishes first. It’s a hard sport. It’s an individual sport, so they only recognize first. (In high school), I never said, ‘OK, I’m going to do this to be an Olympic runner.’ That was my goal when I was younger, but basketball was the sport for me.”

Despite leaving track after high school, Hield experienced clear benefits from his running experience. For example, during his senior season at Oklahoma, he logged 38 minutes or more (the NCAA plays 40-minute games, instead of the NBA’s 48) in a whopping 17 different games. Hield played 54 minutes of the triple-OT thriller at Kansas, out of a possible 55.

“In some games, Coach (Kruger) would keep me in for the whole game and I’d say, ‘Keep me in, I’m good,’ ” he remembered. “You probably feel it afterward, but when you’re playing, you don’t really think about it. When you have that stamina in you, you can run all day.”

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