- Associated Press - Friday, January 22, 2016

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - Buddy Hield’s rise from a raw talent in the Bahamas one of the top scorers in college basketball has lifted everyone he’s touched on his journey.

He’s lifted the University of Oklahoma. His 46-point scoring binge at Kansas made him the talk of college basketball, then he led the Sooners to their first No. 1 ranking since 1990.

He helped his prep school, Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kansas, emerge on a national scale. And as he’s lifted his own draft potential, he’s become a role model back home for those who aspire to play at a higher level. Hield will likely become the third Bahamas-born player drafted to the NBA, following Mychal Thompson in 1978 and Magnum Rolle in 2010.

Sunrise increased its recruiting in the Bahamas following Hield’s success as one of the first players from the archipelago to attend the school. Now, the school has six alums from the country playing Division I basketball: Hield, Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn, Jr. at Michigan State, Leon Cooper at Utah State, Nathan Bain at Stephen F. Austin, Andre Sands at Sam Houston State and Travis Munnings at Louisiana-Monroe.

In 2009-10, there were six players from The Bahamas playing Division I basketball. This season, there are 13.

“Coaches now are paying attention a little bit more,” said Darrell Sears, who runs the event in the Bahamas where Hield was discovered.

“It’s kind of funny. I used to tell guys about Buddy, and people didn’t want to listen,” Sears said. “Now, everybody’s asking me, ‘Do you got any Buddy Hields over there?’”

Hield, who ranks second nationally with 26.1 points per game, said his role as role model is his most important.

“That’s why I know I’ve got to be focused and locked in every time I go out there,” he said. “I know a lot of people are watching me, especially the kids back home.”

Hield said Bahamian basketball players are close - Nairn is one of his best friends, and he remains connected to the Bahamian kids at Sunrise.

“Buddy had a long talk with me one time when he was here doing a summer camp,” said Godfree Rolle, a Bahamian who attends Sunrise. “He’s telling me don’t give up, a lot of that. I really took that to heart.”

Hield also had a camp in The Bahamas last summer.

“He didn’t forget about us or where he came from,” Radshad Davis, another Bahamian playing for Sunrise, said. “He connects with all of the youngsters from back home.”

Sunrise athletic director Jeremiah Adair said it wasn’t immediately obvious that Hield would be a game changer for their program, but then-Sunrise coach Kyle Lindsted, now an assistant at Wichita State, saw Hield’s potential.

“At the time, Buddy was extremely small, and I’m just like, ‘Man, this is the guy?’” Adair said. “And coach Kyle said, ‘This guy’s just a winner. He wants it more than anyone else, he refuses to lose, and he’s going to give way more than anyone we’ve ever had here.’”

The 6-foot-4 shooting guard has improved significantly each college season. He was a knockdown shooter as a sophomore, but often settled for jumpers. He became stronger and began attacking the basket as a junior while emerging as a defender, and was named Big 12 Player of the Year. He considered leaving Oklahoma after his junior year, but after researching with coach Lon Kruger, he chose to return for his senior season. Since then, he has improved his ball-handling and decision-making and is in position to be a lottery pick.

Creighton coach Greg McDermott, whose son, Doug, plays for the Chicago Bulls, was impressed after Hield scored 33 points against the Bluejays.

“Last year, he was a shooter,” McDermott said. “This year, he’s a basketball player. There’s so much more to his game. He’s going to be wearing an NBA uniform next year.”

Hield appreciates everything he has gained - he especially feels indebted to Lindsted. But he’s learned to limit outside noise because there’s still work to do.

“I stay in the gym,” he said. “That’s where I find peace, and where I get myself away from everybody, turn my phone off, play my music and stay relaxed. I’m just doing what got me here.”

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .

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