How a bullet wound strengthened the bond between two Sooners

Originally published on Sports Illustrated’s Campus Rush in April 2016 ahead of the men’s Final Four

Via Wikimedia Commons

A phone call came through for Buddy Hield.

He was working out in Kansas a few weeks before returning to Norman for summer workouts in May 2014.

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger was on the other end of the call to inform Hield something happened to his roommate, senior guard Isaiah Cousins, while visiting home in Mount Vernon, New York.

An errant bullet wounded Cousins’ left shoulder. Local media indicated he was an innocent bystander in the middle of two warring Mount Vernon gangs.

Hield’s stomach dropped.

He immediately called Cousins. And his worries were soon subsided after learning his teammate was going to be okay.

Cousins needed some time to fully recover from the scary evening on May 27, 2014, but it didn’t take long for him to get back in the gym.

“It was great to have him back,” said Chris Crutchfield, an OU assistant. “I still think he’s got a little piece in him. That might be his good luck piece.”

Cousins was simply grateful to survive the non-life threatening shot. The traumatic event made him take basketball more seriously and leave everything out on the court.

“A lot of people didn’t expect it to happen,” Cousins said in a press conference Monday. “They didn’t know if I was going to be able to bounce back from getting shot. They thought I was just probably not going to make it back to school.”

Cousins found his way to Norman to reprise his role as a starter. And this Saturday, Hield, Cousins, junior Jordan Woodard and senior Ryan Spangler will start their 105th consecutive game together against №2 seed Villanova in Houston, Texas.

OU’s tight bond, built by countless games, practices, film sessions and team meetings, is one rare to college basketball.

Hield and Cousins’ journey to the school’s first Final Four since 2002 started long before the start of the 2015–16 season.

“When we saw their confidence as freshman, they never backed down to those seniors,” Crutchfield said. “They always played with that edge. They wanted to be good players that would always challenge those seniors everyday in practice. They’d ended up talking a lot of trash to each other in practice as freshman.”

Cousins and Hield averaged 15.9 and 25.1 minutes per game respectively as first-year players. They started a total of 27 games and averaged a combined 10.1 points per game as OU returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the school’s 2009 Elite Eight run.

Hield and Cousins’ early confidence was a big reason why they played so many minutes during Kruger’s second season as the Sooners head coach.

“Normally you don’t get that with guys,” Crutchfield said. “They come in a little intimidated, a little scared, a little discouraged. Those guys (Hield and Cousins) came in with an edge right away, and that’s why they played as freshman.”

The two guards continued to develop their game and helped Oklahoma gradually improve its postseason success.

They jumped from a №10 seed in 2013 to a №5 seed the next year. OU made a Sweet 16 run as a №3 seed in 2015, and two years after getting shot, Cousins is side-by-side with OU’s veteran squad in the Final Four.

“It was just a pleasure to come back and just keep working with my teammates and being in the gym with them and continue to play as a starter with them,” Cousins said. “And now that we made the Final Four, it’s even better.”

Cousins and Hield’s numbers have skyrocketed since their first year during the 2012–13 season. Cousins has a team-high 167 assists this season, while Hield is averaging 25.4 points per game.

Hield gets a majority of the credit for Oklahoma’s success, but there’s more to OU than Hield.

“People always talk about me. But they don’t know I can’t go without these guys,” Hield said. “It’s crazy how everybody puts it back on me, because I’m the leader of the team … but if those guys aren’t doing their part, I don’t go off.”

Hield knows firsthand OU isn’t a one-man show.

Hield and Cousins are diligent with their craft and maintain a work ethic that’s helped the Sooners become one of the best shooting teams in the country.

The two’s preparations have come at a price, but they’re two wins away from the school’s first national championship.

“I can’t tell you how hard we work in the mornings,” Hield said. “(Cousins and I) come early mornings and work out together. He pushes me. I push him.

“We compete with each other every night and day. We just try to push each other everywhere on the court as much as we can.”

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