Trae Young went into college basketball feeling like he had something to prove to his doubters.
A year later, here he goes again.
Young was the most electrifying player in the college game this past season, his stellar numbers in his only season at Oklahoma more than silencing anyone who felt like he wasn’t elite. Now he expects that he’ll need to prove himself once again, starting right when his name gets called in Thursday night’s NBA draft.
“I’ll always have a chip on my shoulder,” Young said, “until I hang my shoes up.”
That chip served him well at Oklahoma, when he led the nation with averages of 27.4 points and 8.7 assists per game. He’ll be snagged in the lottery on Thursday, by a team that apparently will be willing to turn its offense over to a 6-foot-2 guard who tries to emulate Steve Nash and counts Rod Strickland as one of his many mentors.
He thinks he’s the best player in the draft, and easily could be the first guard to get selected. Young was recruited for years by Oklahoma, his hometown school, and Sooners coach Lon Kruger spent hours and hours with him this past season breaking down film – probably all the while knowing that his star guard was going the one-and-done route.
“I knew how good he was, but I didn’t even realize he was this good,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari, who also recruited Young heavily. “The biggest thing in this, and it’s a great lesson – Lon Kruger, who I have unbelievable respect for, basically said, ‘We’re going to play through you, it’s all going through you, you’re going to shoot when you want.’ And he did not lie.”
Kruger’s trust in Young was worthwhile. In college, there was something special from Young just about every night.
Young had four games in which he scored at least 40 points; no one in Division I could say that. Young had nine other games in which he finished with at least 20 points and 10 assists; again, no other Division I player came close to doing that, either.
Young tied the all-time Division I record with a 22-assist game in December. He was the first player to finish a season simultaneously leading Division I in scoring and assists per game. The accolades kept piling up – highest scoring average for a season by any player from any Big 12 school, consensus All-American, freshman of the year, Bob Cousy Award finalist, Naismith Trophy semifinalist.
He had a sensational year by any measure.
“It was crazy,” Young said. “But it was fun … and it motivated me to get better.”
The realistic watching for Young should start with the No. 3 pick, owned by the Atlanta Hawks.
Atlanta worked Young out about a week ago, and the guard looked noticeably stronger than he was a couple of months ago when his college career ended – he said he’s packed on at least 10 pounds of new muscle since then.
The Hawks say their approach will be simple: They’ll take the best player still on the board. Young knows it’s out of his control.
“This is the first time in my life where I haven’t gotten to pick where I’m going,” Young said. “AAU, you get to pick what team you play for. College, same. Having to wait to see where you’re going, it’s definitely something different but I’m not nervous at all.”
When it’s time to find his seat at Barclays Center for the draft, Young insists that he’s going to savor the moment.
“If you looked back a year ago to now, nobody would think I’d be in this situation,” Young said. “So just being here now, I’m just going to enjoy and relax and embrace it all. That draft night is going to be a great feeling for me.”
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