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02/06/2019 | News release | Distributed by Public on 02/06/2019 08:49

Hield and Ayton: the face of basketball development in the Bahamas

Both Buddy Hield and Deandre Ayton grew up shooting hoops between the palm trees and turquoise waters of the Bahamas. Now, both are NBA stars and the greatest example for the children in their islands that dream to get to basketball's highest level.

Chosen among the top 10 in their corresponding NBA drafts, Hield and Ayton didn't leave their country until they were already in high school. Developed in the Bahamian youth leagues, Hield embarked to Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas when he was 18, and Ayton was recruited at 15 by the Balboa City School in San Diego. Now, both are professionals that constantly visit the Bahamas to give back to the community and demonstrate that everything is possible.

Hield, 26, is from Freeport, a low-income sector with an estimated population of 46,000 inhabitants in the southeastern part of the island.

Hield was recruited by the University of Oklahoma, where he left his mark with 17 points and 5 rebounds per game in his four seasons with the Sooners. Chosen sixth by the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2016 draft, and then exchanged to the Sacramento Kings, Hield continues to produce a 14-point quota, and this (2018-2019) season has been his best yet, with a 20-point average.

For the player, now it's time to honor his roots. It's been five years since Hield started organizing an annual basketball camp in the Bahamas called Eight Mile Rock Camp, where 300 children from the ages of eight to 19 attend each year.

'It's a blessing,' said Hield during the most recent edition of the camp. As I plan the offseason, I always plan to put this in my camp schedule. It's always important to be back home and to give back to the kids and the community. I know what it's like growing up here so being a role model for these kids, giving them a chance to learn something important, something they can take advantage, it's a priority for me,' said Hield.

'I thank God every day for blessing me, being able to use my platform to show these kids what it takes to get to the next level. Hopefully, I can inspire a few to be the next ambassador of the Bahamas whether it's in basketball or some other field,' he commented.

In 2018, Hield wore the national jersey in two games as part of the first round of the FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers 2019. In the first encounter, against the Virgin Islands, Hield scored 21 points, including five three-pointers, recovered 13 rebounds and assisted six times, but for a lost cause. In his second appearance, this time against the Dominican Republic, the 6-foot, 4-inch small forward contributed 19 points and 8 rebounds, and was very active in the defense, achieving three steals in 28 minutes of action.

In 2014, Hield added significant figures for the Bahamas at the Centrobasket in Nayarit, Mexico, where he led the tournament with 19.8 points and six rebounds per game.

Meanwhile, Deandre Ayton, 21 and a Nassau native, represents the future and the present of the island's basketball. Some even dare to call him 'the face of Bahamian basketball for the next 15 years.'

With an education from the University of Arizona, where he ranked an average of 20 points and 11 rebounds per game in his first and only season, he was the 2018 Draft's first pick for the Phoenix Suns. Ayton has met all expectations, putting up each night an average of 16 points and 10 rebounds in the scoreboard. The seven-foot center is the masterpiece that Bahamas awaits to reveal in their next international opportunity.

'It shows them anybody can make it,' said Ayton in a recent interview for Tribune 242, a Bahamas news outlet. 'Buddy and I, when we were younger, we were the kids in the camp saying we wanted to be NBA players as well and we wanted to be just like the NBA players visiting the camp. Hard work pays off and kids have to know it's not easy playing at the top level, it's a lot of responsibility and a lot of sacrifices so they just have to be prepared for that.'

Although he has yet to step on the court with the national team, everything seems to indicate that Ayton has what's needed to immediately impact the Bahamas' results.

The duo of players is following the footsteps of Bahamian star Mychal Thompson - Golden State Warriors' Klay Thompson's father - who marked the road for the island's ball players toward the NBA after a successful career with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Los Angeles Lakers, from 1978 to 1991.

There's another factor in common in the development process of Hield and Ayton -- they've both frequently participated at the Jeff Rodger Youth Basketball Camp. This basketball camp for children has been going on for 32 years in the Bahamas, with the support of the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture; and has featured resources like Tyron 'Muggsy' Bouges, Byron Scott, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Mark Jackson.

The results of the development of basketball in the Bahamas aren't limited to the men's branch, since the island currently has two female professional players overseas.

Jonquel Jones, a 6-foot and 6-inch, center, plays in Russia's Premier League with the UMMC Ekaterinburg, a currently undefeated team, and she ranks in 16 points per encounter in average.

Meanwhile, Waltiea Rolle plays at the Chinese Women's Basketball Association's Xianjiang Magic Deer, where she averages 10 points and four rebounds.

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