LOS ANGELES — After Oklahoma senior star Buddy Hield scored 37 points Saturday to lead the Sooners to the Final Four, the National Player of the Year favorite credited his idol, Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant, who was in attendance.
“As soon as I saw Kobe was here, I knew I had to put on a show. Blame it on Kobe,” Hield said, according to ESPN’s Brett McMurphy, after second-seeded Oklahoma’s 80-68 win over top-seeded Oregon in the West Region final.
That game was held in Anaheim, about a 10-minute drive from Bryant’s home in Newport Beach, and Bryant sat a few rows up from the court.
Of course, the Lakers star was quite impressed by Hield, who hit 13 of 20 shots, including eight of 13 from 3-point range.
And to Hield’s point that his performance was, in a way, Bryant’s fault?
“That’s the kind of fault you want, I guess,” Bryant said with a laugh. “He looked phenomenal.”
The 6-foot-4 Hield is averaging 25.4 points this season and is projected as a top-10 pick in this summer’s NBA draft.
“The same way he’s playing in college is the same way I anticipate him playing in the league,” Bryant said of Hield. “I don’t think it’s overly complicated. I think people tend to overthink players a lot and try to nitpick. It’s easy. If a guy can play, he can play. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. He’ll be just fine.”
The two were able to meet up and take a picture together Thursday, when Bryant attended a pair of tournament games in Anaheim, including Oklahoma’s 77-63 win over third-seeded Texas A&M.
Then in Saturday’s game, Bryant saluted Hield at one point, according to Hield.
Bryant said he attended NCAA tournament games for the first time ever this week. He never played in the tournament because he went to the NBA straight from high school, though he said he wished he had been able to participate.
“Yeah, part of me, yeah, sometimes, absolutely,” Bryant said Friday. “Every time this time of year comes around, yeah, if for nothing else to keep Richard Hamilton from winning one.”
Like Bryant, Hamilton played high school basketball in Pennsylvania, and while Bryant’s prep team prevailed at that level, Hamilton won an NCAA title with the Connecticut Huskies in 1999.
“I tease him about that all the time,” Bryant said. “I tell him, ‘I beat you in high school and I could beat you in college.’ “