You could say that Kansas coach Bill Self missed on Oklahoma senior Buddy Hield, the reigning Big 12 player of the year. You could say that the KU staff should have been more diligent with an in-state recruit. You could say that they should have seen this coming.
Self’s response: How many college coaches did?
Four years ago, Hield was a standout senior at Sunrise Christian Academy, a private prep powerhouse on the northeast side of Wichita. A native of the Bahamas, Hield, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, had gone to Sunrise to pursue a college basketball scholarship, and after two seasons in Kansas, he was a top-100 recruit with offers from schools all over the country.
One of those schools was KU. The Jayhawks’ staff was interested in Hield, Self says. They believed he could be a program player, a nice addition who could help the Jayhawks in time. They did not, of course, think he would one day be an All-American candidate, averaging 24.7 points per game for the No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners.
“I never thought he would average 25 (points per game),” Self said, “or we would have tried a lot harder to recruit him.”
Self smiled. This wry concession came on Saturday night, two days before No. 2 Kansas’ showdown with Oklahoma inside Allen Fieldhouse.
At 8 p.m. Monday, the Jayhawks will take the floor against Hield and the Sooners in what will likely be a rare No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup. When the latest Associated Press poll is released Monday, the Jayhawks and Sooners will likely move up one spot each, surpassing No. 1 Michigan State after the Spartans suffered their first loss at Iowa on Tuesday.
Just three days into this Big 12 season, the conference will be treated to the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup among Big 12 teams. (The Big Eight was home to two No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups in 1990; No. 2 Missouri defeated No. 1 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, while No. 1 Oklahoma defeated No. 2 Kansas in the conference tournament at Kemper Arena).
To add to the intrigue: Oklahoma is 12-0 and currently No. 2 in the coaches’ poll, while Kansas, 12-1, is No. 3, meaning by Monday the teams could hold the top two spots in both polls — with the order reversed.
“It’s going to be fun,” Hield told reporters on Saturday, after the Sooners held serve at home against No. 11 Iowa State in their Big 12 opener. “It’s a matchup that everybody is going to be watching. We’re going to handle our business.”
Hield, who averaged 17.4 points per game as a junior, is leading an Oklahoma team that has emerged unscathed after 12 games, piling up victories against Memphis, Villanova and Iowa State.
Hield is shooting 49.3 percent from three. The Sooners are shooting 45.3 percent from deep as a team — just slightly behind Kansas’ 46 percent — they are one of three teams to rank in the top 10 nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency. (Kansas and Villanova are the others.)
“They’re aggressive just like we are,” Kansas sophomore Devonte’ Graham said after the Jayhawks’ 102-74 victory over Baylor on Saturday. “They can knock down the open shot. (They are) good one-on-one players. So we’ve got to keep them out of the paint.”
In the opening months of the season, Graham found himself gravitating toward Oklahoma’s games on television. He found himself studying the backcourt of Hield, senior Isaiah Cousins and junior Jordan Woodard, one of the few backcourts in the country that can match the Jayhawks’ loaded arsenal at guard.
“They score so easily,” Self said.
To emerge with a victory on Monday, to make an early statement in the Big 12 race, Graham said the Jayhawks must find a way to slow Oklahoma’s guards. Which means they must contain Hield, the star guard with Kansas roots.
Yes, you could say that KU missed on Hield, and that would be accurate to a certain degree. He attended high school just 160 miles from Allen Fieldhouse, and Self let a future Big 12 player of the year escape south.
But in other ways, it’s not totally right. Self is happy with how things turned out. The Jayhawks’ backcourt is its strength. Sometimes, Self says, you can’t sign everyone.
“We recruited him,” Self said, “but you go back and look at it, we’ve had some pretty good players here, too. And you say (during recruiting): ‘Buddy is good, he can come and make us better. But can he impact us like he (has) impacted OU?’
“The answer would probably be yes. But we probably thought, at the time, ‘We’d love to get him,’ but OU probably pressed him more and did a better job recruiting him. And they ended up getting him.”