Former teammates Nairn, Hield now friendly foes
Syracuse, N.Y. — It seemed obvious Lourawls Nairn would be drawn to Buddy Hield when he first arrived at Sunrise Christian Academy in 2011.
Both players left the Bahamas to play for the school in Bel Aire, Kansas, and once the younger Nairn was in town, the two clicked.
"As soon as I got there we had an instant connection," Nairn said.
"I liked him right away," Hield said. "We stuck close together from the first day."
Now the two get to face each other in the East Regional semifinals Friday night at the Carrier Dome. Hield, a junior, is Oklahoma's leading scorer and the Big 12 player of the year. Nairn is the energetic freshman who has sparked Michigan State since entering the starting lineup more than a month ago.
Both credit the other for pushing them to get to this point. Much of their growth came from constant one-on-one games when they were at Sunrise.
Nairn said he didn't win many, but it wasn't for lack of effort.
"I'm surprised he told you that," Hield joked before practice. "I figured he'd say he won the majority of them, but I'm proud of him for not lying to y'all. I whooped him a lot of times and he went home crying a lot."
They have had plenty of time to joke and reminisce over the past few days, both noting each other's team when the brackets were released.
"When we won to get in the Sweet 16 there was a text on my phone from him saying congratulations," Nairn said. "I told him to go out and play his game so we could play in the Sweet 16."
They'll get that chance now, and Hield is certain his friend will play a big role. He's seen the way Nairn interacts with teammates and knows he'll have the same effect with the Spartans.
"He lights up the room," Hield said. "When I see him, he's always fun and energetic and full of energy. He's a fun kid to be around. You always want that teammate to get you riled up and energy. There's no surprise being here at Michigan State. He was doing the same thing for us. He's always been one of the guys yelling and having fun out there, and being energetic. So it feels good to know he's doing that at Michigan State, too."
After playing not long after noon its first two Tournament games, Michigan State will be staying up late Friday night.
The Spartans, in an attempt to adjust, practiced late Tuesday before heading to Syracuse on Wednesday.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo said he'll tell his players to act like they're just going out for a normal Friday night. His bigger concern is making the quick turnaround to an earlier start Sunday if they win.
"I worry more about the day and what they do all day," Izzo said. "And I worry a little about the turnaround. How do you come back and get some work done in such a short period of time? As for the game itself, it's the same for both teams."
No place like dome
While the NCAA is starting to move away from playing regionals in large domed stadiums, Friday night's games takes place at one end of the football field at Syracuse.
It's not on the scale of an NFL stadium like Ford Field or Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of the Final Four. The Spartans spent Thursday adjusting, but shooting wasn't the concern.
"Talking out there, the sound doesn't travel," Denzel Valentine said. "So we're gonna have to be talking a lot louder and stuff like that. But it wasn't too bad to shoot."
Valentine had more fun joking about the images of him celebrating after Michigan State's victory over Virginia that were making the rounds on social media.
The most popular was him joining the cast of "Wizard of Oz," while other showed him in the movie "300" and running through a field.
"I've seen all the other ones," Valentine said. "(The Wizard of Oz) one is probably my favorite but I also like the one with me and (Adreian Payne) on a rocket ship. That was pretty funny."
… Junior Matt Costello, on how Oklahoma will handle Branden Dawson: "Good luck. He's a freak of nature."