ANAHEIM, Calif. — A non-descript woman aimlessly roamed the halls of the Honda Center Thursday night, while just a few hundred feet away, a Sweet 16 game between Oklahoma and Texas A&M was played. The woman paces back and forth through the hallways, her eyes fixated on the ground. Only occasionally does she look up to take a quick, deep breath, before her eyes shoot back toward the ground.
On this night the woman looks like any other fan, dressed in a jean jacket, white shirt and jeans, and truly is non-descript, as small children in Oregon shirts rush around her.
But she is the furthest thing from anonymous. She is the mother of the best player on the court at that exact moment.
She is Jackie Swann, the mother of Sooners star Buddy Hield. But even as her son and his teammates pull away from Texas A&M late for a 77-63 win, she refuses to take her eyes off the ground, or return from the tunnel to look out on the court.
She only emerges as the final seconds tick down, and the game goes final.
Once the final buzzer sounds, she is ready to talk. And ready to explain this unusual tradition.
"When I see it’s like two minutes, and it’s a few points over, like 10 points, that’s when I know it’s safe to return," Swann said. "But if it’s not 10 points, I keep praying until I see 0:00."
If Swann’s son is the most famous player in college basketball, then she herself has arguably become the sport’s most prominent mom, after arriving from the Bahamas a few months ago. She will be with the Sooners until her son’s season ends, even if she rarely sees a moment of action from the court.
Her ritual of roaming the halls during Buddy’s games dates back to their days in the Bahamas. Back then her son played in front of just a few dozen fans, rather than tens of thousands like he did Thursday in Anaheim.
Not that it made the anxiety any easier.
When asked how long she had been roaming hallways while her son played on the court, her answer was simple.
When I see it’s like two minutes, and it’s a few points over, like 10 points, that’s when I know it’s safe to return. But if it’s not 10 points, I keep praying until I see 0:00.
"Always," Swann said. "I’m just praying."
Swann may be praying, but for Oklahoma basketball, she really has been a gift sent from above this season.
By now her story is well-documented; she arrived from the Bahamas a few months ago, and is not only staying in Norman with her son, but literally staying in Norman with her son. She has moved in with Hield and teammate Isaiah Cousins, and two of her other sons have joined them too.
To some, it might be cramped quarters. But for Swann, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
"I cook, I clean, I feed them, I wash their clothes," Swann said. "I do mom stuff."
Neither would Cousins, the man who serves as the fifth wheel in the ever-growing Hield household.
Even Kobe Bryant took time Thursday to pay homage to Buddy Hield.
He enjoys the cooking specifically. When asked what Swann’s best dish was during Wednesday’s media day, he didn’t hesitate to answer.
"Everything," he said with a laugh.
And as it turns out, the more time you spend around the Oklahoma basketball program, the more you realize just how large Swann’s impact has been. It isn’t just with Hield and Cousins, or even just the Oklahoma basketball players as well.
While she serves as a surrogate mother to the players on the team, she serves as an inspiration to others as well.
That includes Renee Hill, the wife of assistant coach Lew Hill.
"She is the true definition of what a mom is," Hill said. "A lot of people can give birth to a kid, but she is the true definition of a mom. Me being younger than her, I look up to her."
She is the true definition of what a mom is. A lot of people can give birth to a kid, but she is the true definition of a mom. Me being younger than her, I look up to her.
Oklahoma assistant Lew Hill
"She has done an awesome job, and now it’s time for her to sit back and enjoy what her son is going to give her."
Hill of course is speaking about his future in the NBA next season, but before then, there is still plenty left for Oklahoma to accomplish. First there is a trip to the Elite Eight on Saturday, then, well who knows, maybe there’s a trip to Houston next week as well.
At this point, however, Swann’s focus isn’t on her enjoyment, but instead, that of her son.
"It’s whatever Buddy wants," Swann said. "I always tell people, ‘This is Buddy’s dream. This is not my dream.’ Buddy says, ‘Mom, this is what I want.’ I have to be OK with it. We’re happy for him as a family."
Of course, there’s no doubt that things could get even happier for the family if the Sooners advanced to next weekend’s Final Four.
For Swann, it would be an incredible cap to her brief time in Norman. And for her son, it would be an incredible cap to four years at Oklahoma, and really the fulfillment of a life’s dream to play college basketball at the highest level.
When Hield told his mom he wanted to play major college basketball, she didn’t know how to react.
It’s also what has made these last few months so sweet.
"We had a conversation the other day, me and the boys," Swann said, reflecting on everything that has come the last few weeks. "Buddy said, ‘When you look back, is this real?’"