NORMAN — Up the south ramp, behind a glass door, in the bowels of Lloyd Noble Center is a yellowing poster inside a frame that hangs from a cinder block wall.
Inked at the top of the poster is the phrase: “How are you feeling today?”
Below the question are drawings and emotions: a sad face, an angry face, a depressed one and an anxious one. There is no face that defines a recent patient that inhabited the training room where the poster hangs.
“We need to add one to it,” Oklahoma athletics trainer Alex Brown said this week.
The face would be of Oklahoma freshman guard Buddy Hield and the feeling would be two words: “Fired up.”
On Feb. 11, Hield went to do what he so often does after making a basket: guard his man and try to force a turnover. Instead, he stepped awkwardly on the foot of a TCU defender and broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot, an injury which required surgery.
Now, he's fired up. What was supposed to come next was a long four-to-six week road to recovery.
Yet just four days after surgery, Hield was preparing himself for this week, even though it was only a possibility that he'd be back for the NCAA Tournament.
Sitting on the bench for the Sooners' first tournament game in three years, which will be against San Diego State at 8:20 p.m. Friday, wasn't an option for Hield.
“I want to go dancing with the team,” Hield said.
So at 9:40 p.m. Friday, thanks to Brown and a fast-healing body, Hield will dance — because what came after the break of his foot was the fight to recover for one big dance. What came next is the story of Hield and his healer.
* * *
It was just hours after surgery, and Hield sat on a red metal chair on the sidelines of OU's practice court with his leg propped on another chair. His bandaged foot hung off the edge.
Brown walked up with a sandwich and a bag of Lay's barbecue potato chips.
Still under some effects of the morphine from surgery, Hield downed the meal and, with his mouth often half-full, cheered on his team. Although his body was kept from the court, nothing could contain his voice.
The next day, Brown and Hield sat on the sidelines of practice again. Hield wore his practice jersey and a boot. His crutches rested next to him as he bounced a basketball and racquetball. He lost his dribble, and the racquetball slowly rolled away, out of Hield's reach.
Hield looked at Brown. Brown looked at Hield. Neither moved and a few seconds passed. Then Hield grabbed his crutch, and fished the racquetball back by hooking it with the part of the crutch he typically used to lean on. The ball came rolling back to Hield. He smiled and started dribbling again.
He progressed to sitting in a hard wood chair and shooting the ball while sitting. Yet, in media interviews, he refused to sit.
“I'm trying to be like y'all,” he said just a couple days after surgery. “Y'all are on two feet.”
He wanted to stand. He wanted to walk. He refused to see his injury as a setback.
“There are only comebacks,” he said.
But Day 1, when he initially broke his foot, seemed like a setback. That night, Hield was many of the faces on the poster in the training room. He was upset, confused, angry.
Then came Day 2. He had his mind set on positivity.
“You learn something from every athlete,” Brown said of the injured players he works with. “Buddy teaches everybody how to wake up every day and it be a good day.”
Hield smiled. His energy returned. He began to ask people: “How you feel?” and then answered for them “Fired up!”
Hield and his healer spent hours together on the way to doctor's appointments or rehab. They began to share their musical tastes. Hield taught Brown about reggae music, and Brown introduced the boy from the Bahamas to country.
“He can sing that whole ‘Merry Go Round' song,” Brown said referring to country singer Kacey Musgraves' recent single. “He knows that well because it seemed like every time we were in the car going to Dr. (Brock) Schnebel's office or the orthotic's office or going to do rehab, that song was always on. We were on a merry-go-round for the last three or four weeks.”
And Brown quickly learned that Hield fit the motto that Brown has used for a long time: Pain is an opinion.
“Buddy had a low opinion of pain from the very beginning,” Brown said. “In fact, his word from pain is ting. He'd always say, ‘I have no ting.'”
Hield never asked for a Tylenol, but in the days immediately following surgery, Brown made sure he took some.
Brown and Hield began to work through the “tings” with water therapy and strength conditioning. Through his recovery, Hield became a bit of everything to the team — a manager, a cheerleader, a coach — and they, in return, helped him.
“Buddy was doing whatever he could do to help even when he was on crutches, then when he was in a boot and then once he got into the shoe and couldn't play yet,” Brown said. “He was doing whatever he could do to help everybody all that time.”
Brown's biggest hurdle with Hield was slowing him down so he wouldn't push himself to recover too quickly, not allowing the break to completely heal.
Schnebel referred to Hield's recovery like one would bake a cake.
“We don't want to take it out of the oven to soon, or it won't be done,' Brown said Schnebel told Hield.
“We had a nice oven,” Brown said with a smile, “And it worked perfectly.”
From that first media interview, Hield proclaimed he'd be back sooner than the prescribed four to six weeks.
“I'll be back in three,” he said.
One week out from his surgery, he told Brown and Schnebel, too.
“I'm going to play in the West Virginia game,” Hield said. “God already told me.”
“Good,” Schnebel told him. “That's where I get my information from, too.”
* * *
March 6 was the West Virginia game. It came exactly three weeks exactly after Hield underwent surgery.
With just over 10 minutes remaining in the first half, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger made a substitution. True to his word, Hield entered the game.
Earlier this week during practice, Hield got entangled in his teammates as he aggressively went after the ball. He ended up hopping out of the pile much like he did after breaking the bone in his foot. He immediately got taped up by Brown, who then delivered the news with a smile to Kruger and the media.
“Don't worry,” Brown said. “Buddy sprained the ankle on his other foot.”
The injury was nothing serious, and Hield said after practice that he felt fine, but it did slightly scare him when he couldn't put pressure.
On Friday, the freshman will play in his first NCAA Tournament game. His energy and confidence could be the difference Oklahoma needs to start off the Big Dance with a victory — and he promised earlier this week that come tournament time, his shots from beyond the arc would fall.
So it seems all that remains between the healer and Hield is to add one more face to the poster of emotions, right above the words: Fired up.