'A life changing experience': Buddy Hield's non-profit continues to grow, help athletes

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Jul. 20—For Sam Godwin, Team Buddy Buckets was a lifeline.

The Moore native — who recently transferred to Oklahoma from Wofford to play basketball — said the program helped him gain 30 pounds of muscle and national recognition between his sophomore and junior years of high school at Southmoore.

"It was honestly the most life-changing experience I've ever done," said Godwin. "Without them, I wouldn't have gotten here. I just wouldn't be where I'm at today."

That's been the ultimate goal for Buddy Hield.

The former OU basketball standout launched Team Buddy Buckets as a non-profit organization to give student-athletes a platform to continue their growth both as basketball players and as people. Kicking off in 2018, the organization looks to give kids academic and career opportunities that wouldn't normally be available.

It's a reflection of Buddy Hield's story from struggling in the Bahamas to becoming one of college basketball's greatest players and eventually one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA.

The program has been such a growing success that it's reached the point of being able to bring in kids from areas like the Bahamas — Hield's home country — as the 29-year-old continues to give back to both his homes in the Bahamas and Norman.

Godwin is one of the program's success stories as he joined in the infancy stages in 2018. Godwin credits Gary Harper, the organization's president & executive director of operation, for helping him develop as a player and for being a great mentor.

"He just makes you a better man on and off the court," said Godwin.

For Harper, while the goal of the program is to help kids develop their basketball skills and body, the hope is that it can also help open doors for educational and career opportunities.

"We provide an opportunity for these high school student-athletes to be leaders in their communities," said Harper. "It's bigger than basketball and we're very intentional about what we're trying to do. Basketball is the thing that helps us engage."

The organization is still new, but Harper notes that it's continuing to grow with Hield's support. Hield, who played for OU from 2012-2016, continues to invest plenty of resources that have helped kids from different backgrounds.

One example is Preston Milligan, a 21-year-old college student, who runs the Team Buddy Buckets social media accounts for an internship. Milligan notes that while the program helps him improve his basketball skills, it helps in bigger ways off the court.

"It prepares kids for life a little bit," said Milligan. "[The coaches] really challenge and push kids to give their absolute best and I feel like a lot of the stuff they teach builds character."

The program receives hundreds of applications year-round and is in high demand from kids who'd love to join. Board member Renzi Stone — who played for Oklahoma from 1996-2000 — said the board makes decisions on kids by looking at their potential both on and off the court.

"We're looking for kids who are exceptionally talented, who want to improve and get better, who are coachable," said Stone. "We're looking for just people who are good people. People that we want to be around."

Harper believes the program does a good job of reflecting who Hield is as a person by recruiting kids with strong work ethics and high character.

"We believe that hard work, following a process, pursuing excellence and pursuing your personal potential to be a better person equals a better player," said Harper. "If we build better men, better women, better people, then we build a better world."

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580