The Bulls are looking for a star. He’s coming to the Advocate Center Thursday.
Now they just have to figure out if he also can be a star in the NBA.
Trae Young isn’t going to be the No. 1 selection in the June 21 NBA draft. Or likely No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4. Which is one reason why he’s working out Thursday for the Bulls, who have the No. 7 pick.
But Lil Wayne doesn’t know DeAndre Ayton. He does know Young, whom Lil called on stage during a concert in Norman. Dwyane Wade didn’t advise his eight million Twitter followers to tune in and watch Luka Doncic. But he did so for Young. LeBron James didn’t post Instagram photos of himself with Jaren Jackson or Marvin Bagley. But he did with he and Young.
This college season was supposed to be about the FBI investigation or Michael Porter Jr., Marvin Bagley, even Grayson Allen and Jaylen Brunson. ESPN picked four all-American teams and didn’t mention Young’s name. Neither did Sporting News or the AP. Not even one honorable mention vote.
But for five months of collegiate basketball, there was no bigger name or bigger story than the wispy 6-1 Young, the nation’s leader in scoring and assists, averaging 27.4 points and 8.7 assists. Actually, it was sort of a quadruple double as Young also led the nation in ooohs and aaah with his assortment of floaters, pullups with the quick release and laser passes to teammates whom he knew were open before they did.
But now the NBA is uncertain, just like everyone always has been, about the slightly built kid who measured barely over six feet and about 178 pounds at the NBA Combine in Chicago last month. Sure, he can score a lot of points in college against all those zones and guys going into the insurance business. But what about against the big men in the big time?
You know, like they said about Young when he left Norman North High School averaging 43 points but wasn’t a top 20 recruit; though he did late in his high school days finally begin to draw interest from the big schools. He decided to stay close to home at Oklahoma, where he was an OU ball boy at eight years old.
“You look back a year ago to now, no one thought I would be in this situation,” Young said at the Combine at Quest Multisport. “A lot of people had me the fourth or fifth best point guard in my class; I feel like I had something to prove.”
It often seems that way for the little guys, though it’s becoming a much different NBA in which stars now have names like Curry, Nash, Parker and Paul instead of only Wilt, Kareem, Shaq and Hakeem.
The big guys are celebrated by the NBA draft guys; they are safe choices. You can’t teach size and all that. The little guys, well, not so much. They are who they are, as the cliche goes.
So who is this Trae Young?
Superstar or supernova?
“I don’t think I’ve played any different than I did in high school,” Young told Slam magazine during his breakout freshman year. “I just think that maybe what they saw in high school is something that (they thought) couldn’t be done at this (collegiate) level. I’m doing the same thing I was doing in high school, just at a different level. It’s always been there. It’s just that people didn’t see it or didn’t believe it at the time. Now they do.”
But does it transfer yet again to another level, the NBA level?
Well, they said it wouldn’t from high school to college. It did, and in such a spectacular way that no one could turn away.
So why not again?
Young has been likened to Stephen Curry because of Young’s peculiar ability to raise up and make the most unlikely shots. It’s not fair to make such comparisons as there really are no nexts. Young when he was at the Combine said he more identified with Steve Nash.
“A lot of his intangibles really fit my game, “ Young said.
"I grew up watching Steph,” Young told CBS Sports, "but I also watched film on Tony Parker, the way he finishes around the rim, Steve Nash, the way he has touch with a floater game, Kyrie Irving, the way he can get by a defender. I feel like I resemble a lot of Damian Lillard with a lot of his aggressiveness and his ability to get to the rim.”
And when he was a kid—yes, he’s all of 19 now—Young pretty much went everywhere in his Chris Paul jersey; you know, the not so athletic Hall of Fame-to-be guard who measured an inch shorter than Young.
Trae Young is a terrific shooter with a quick release from all over the court, not a particularly great athlete, but a player with an innate awareness of movement, time and spacing. Stuff that works pretty well in the NBA these days.
Trae was born Young; that’s also the problem with trying to be in the NBA. He just doesn’t look like it. Perhaps he needs to wear a fancier watch.
He comes from a hoop family, Trae’s father, Rayford, a very good point guard at Texas Tech. He played overseas for several years, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, Trae and sister in tow until the family returned to the U.S. and settled in Norman near mom’s—Candice—family. Rayford became successful in the medical equipment business, but his dream was the NBA. Good point guard that he was, he’d pass it to his son.
There was film study of NBA players, a ball boy at Thunder games, introductions to NBA players Rayford had known over the years from his play, removing the awe and glamour, and competition. Rayford took Trae to play in the serious pickup games in Dallas, Tulsa and Houston, “de-soft-ify him,” as he told the Washington Post. Trae was a shooter; dad explained without the obvious comparisons he needed to be more than J.J. Redick or Jimmer Fredette, spectacular scorers off screen after screen. The NBA wasn’t doing that for him. Embrace the ball and the pass. Trae did. The family lived in an exclusive section of Norman near campus, all upscale stuff and kids. Too easy, dad decided. So Trae transferred to another school with more diversity, less economic ease.
Trae worked his way scoring through the 20s, then 30s and 40s in his senior year of high school, finally drawing the attention of the big guys from Duke, Kansas and Kentucky. By then, local media was advertising where Young could be seen playing. He was box office must see. Rayford encouraged Trae to attend at one of the big places, where the scouts hang out and the pros gather. Nah, Trae was fine with helping out his hometown college, the guys who were interested when no one else was. Trae remained accessible to the community even as his fame grew, hanging out for long stretches after high school and then college games to sign autographs and talk with kids, posing for photos with everyone who asked.
Young still was ranked the 23rd overall freshman prospect coming into Oklahoma.
He opened the season with 15 points against Omaha, one of six on threes. So what was all the fuss?
By the fifth game against Oregon, Young hit for 43 points, had an amazing 26 points and 22 assists against Northwestern State, 43 again against TCU, 48 at Oklahoma State and he was a sensation; 39 and 14 at TCU, 44 against Baylor, “just” 26 and nine, but beating Kansas. And not exactly with a loaded roster playing for one time Illinois and Atlanta Hawks coach Lon Kruger. They were coming off an 11-20 season, 5-13 in conference.
Eventually after a 14-2 start, teams began loading up on Young as Oklahoma had just two other double figure scorers, no other five-star recruit. They lost nine of their last 11 and in the first round of the NCAA tournament in overtime. Young still had 28 points, shooting nine of 18 with seven assists and five rebounds in the tournament loss, out in the same round as Ayton.
Before the 2017-18 collegiate season, the mock drafts were accurate. They pretty much all had Bagley, Doncic, Ayton, Jackson, Sexton, Porter, Bamba and Bridges in the top 10. None had Young in the first round. Until a few weeks into the season. Just like in high school when none of the big guys had Young on their recruiting lists until, well, he started to play.
“I think I bring a lot of things to a team,” the soft spoken Young said at the Combine. “I bring immediate impact off the court as much as I do on the court. As far as my skill set, I can spread out the defense, I can attack defenders in multiple ways, I can get my teammates involved. I think I pretty much do it all for a team and I am looking forward to making a huge impact for whatever team I go to.”
Like a lot of kids everywhere, they just need a chance. Young in that way continues to be an inspiration. Don’t listen to them. Just show them. Is he about to show the latest group of doubters, the NBA, in a few months? Dismiss him at your own peril. There’s been a lot of regret among those who have.