Taylor, Longhorns admire Hield from afar

Akshay Mirchandani

Isaiah Taylor thought about who should win Big 12 Player of the Year. 

The junior guard listed off some of the usual suspects — Iowa State senior forward Georges Niang, Kansas forward Perry Ellis and even himself. 

He didn’t explicitly say it, Taylor couldn’t hide his admiration for Buddy Hield — the Oklahoma senior guard who ripped Texas’ heart out on Feb. 8 in Norman, but also Taylor’s buddy.

“He’s a good player, he’s a friend of mine,” Taylor said. “Being at camps with him throughout the whole summer, I’ve been watching him.”

The two will meet for the last time on Saturday at the Frank Erwin Center, when No. 25 Texas hosts No. 3 Oklahoma.

They became friends well before Saturday, though. Hield and Taylor connected right before Taylor’s sophomore year when they both attended a LeBron James camp in Las Vegas. Since then, the two have taken different paths. 

Hield is a favorite for plenty of national honors on the No. 3 team in the country and is a likely lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft. On the court, Hield has improved his scoring average from 17.4 points last year to 25.1 this year.

Taylor, meanwhile, had an up-and-down sophomore campaign that ended in a coaching change for Texas. But, like Hield, he has improved as well, averaging career-highs in points, assists and field-goal percentage.

“He’s a good player,” Taylor said. “We just want to make it tough on him and get the ball out of his hands.”

The Longhorns did that for nearly 39 minutes the first time Texas and Oklahoma met up this season. Texas kept Hield in check for most of that night, but Hield scored the final 12 points of the game, including a game winning 3-pointer.

It wasn’t the first time Hield has put Oklahoma on his back, and even Longhorns other than Taylor have taken notice of his game.

“We’ve watched him from afar just to see how successful he’s been,” senior guard Javan Felix said. “He’s been tearing it up the whole year.”

Head coach Shaka Smart has taken notice as well. 

“They’ve got Hield, who’s an assassin,” Smart said. “He’s the nicest guy in the world, but he’s an assassin.”

The admiration is reciprocated. After Hield beat the Longhorns the first time just a few weeks ago, he praised what Texas is doing under Smart. 

“They fight, they’re always going to be fighting,” Hield told ESPN. “The Red River Rivalry is always about the fight, it always comes down to the last second.” 

But it’s Taylor who said he has enjoyed watching Hield improve from year-to-year and doing well — unless it’s against the Longhorns. 

“I want to see everyone do good, not versus us, but I want to see everybody do good,” Taylor said. “Especially people I know. Just to see everybody live out their dreams, it’s a great feeling.”

As long as they’re not playing against each other, they’ll still be buddies.