Even Trae Young couldn't have predicted this.
After 10 games, Oklahoma's freshman point guard has become the first player to lead Division I in points (28.5) and assists (10.2) per outing. He is scoring 6.3 points more than any other Power 5 conference player, Stanford's Reid Travis, and is averaging 2.1 more assists than Southern Cal's Jordan McGlaughlin.
The season has been a whirlwind. Young, as a player who doesn't shy away from reading tweets or listening to television analysts talk about him, is taken aback by the reactions.
After tying the NCAA single-game assist record, 22, along with 26 points, in Tuesday's blowout win over Northwestern State, some of the NBA friends he's made posted words of encouragement on Twitter, including former Detroit and Boston star Chauncey Billups, Sacramento guard Buddy Hield and Boston forward Jayson Tatum.
“Now, it's to the point where I can't even see everything,” he said. “We have a long ways to go, but it's not overwhelming. I know we have to be winning for all of this to happen. That's the main thing. I'm just happy we're winning.”
Yet, even as Young rubbed elbows with NBA stars as a high schooler, when it came to his professional prospects, the five-star recruit wasn't being considered in many 2018 mock drafts.
It took him less than 10 games to change that.
Sam Vecenie, college basketball and NBA draft writer for The Athletic, said on his Game Theory podcast earlier this week that he's “running out of reasons” for Young to not be a top-five pick.
“I can't emphasize it enough how ridiculous it is,” Vecenie told The Transcript. “We see kids that are 6-foot-2, not necessarily the longest dudes in the world, and they struggle to adjust to the college game. This is totally different. He's not seen a drop-off [from high school] in the slightest. There's not even a bit of his game that hasn't worked.
“Trae is basically universally considered a lottery pick now, 10 games in.”
His NBA draft board ascent hasn't been confined to media circles. NBA scouts are beginning to take notice.
“I wouldn't even say he was a second-round pick at the beginning of the year,” one NBA executive told the Transcript. “I would say he was just a [high school] All-American who people knew of but didn't expect much from.”
Some consider Young's best skill to be his acknowledgement of what he can't do. Young doesn't try to dunk. In a sprint, he might not beat some of his teammates, and his measurements, 6-foot-2, 180 pounds with a 6-4 wingspan, don't fit the prototypical NBA prospect.
“The best thing you can do when you are limited in certain ways, athletically and speed-wise, is to play to your advantages, and he's done that,” the same NBA executive said. “He shoots the ball at a high level with great range. He's able to create separation. He can get in the lane and, rather than try to score it every time, he's going to pass it off to another player.”
He did most of that in high school, particularly his senior season, when he averaged 42.6 points and 4.1 assists.
“At the end of the day, he's not a markedly different player than we saw him playing in high school or on the AAU circuit,” Vecenie said. “He's just doing it now against incredibly elite competition, and that's just unbelievably impressive to me.”
Not a one-and-done
When Young surveyed his collegiate options, he chose OU in part because he thought leaving for the NBA after one year wasn't an option.
“The plan all along to go to school and be there multiple years,” his father, Rayford, said. “No matter if it was two, three or four, that was the whole plan going in, because of the fact that we felt he just needed to develop and get ready. The best point guards in the NBA right now are guys that stayed in school multiple years.”
OU provided a place where he could leave a legacy, have close support from his family and learn from a coach, Lon Kruger, who helped transform Hield from the nation's No. 154 recruit, according to 247Sports, into the No. 6 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft after four Sooner seasons. That made the OU the best fit for the Young, rather than a destination that might carry a one-and-done expectation.
“Trae was never going to leave school if he was going to be a second-round pick,” Rayford said. “It was always go to school, develop your game and if you can be a first-round pick, then we'll sit down with coach Kruger and talk about things.”
The Sooners don't face any more teams like Northwestern State. Of their 19 remaining regular-season games, 11 are on national television. If Young can't keep up his exceptional pace against the Big 12 Conference, Ray's fear is people will think “'Oh, he's not as good as we thought he was.'”
For Young, his personal success takes a backseat to OU's. After overshadowing his high school team, he wants to avoid that happening in college. Young gets excited when he hears Brady Manek or Kameron McGusty's name on SportsCenter.
“Doing what I did Tuesday, with the assists, means a lot more to me than points, rebounds or steals,” Young said. “All those other statistics are more individual. Getting an assist requires everybody.”
So far the Sooners have climbed together, with OU debuting at No. 17 in the Associated Press Top 25 earlier this week.
Young's dream has always been to play in the NBA, and right now, he's on the tip of many draft experts' tongues. However, if he has to sacrifice some stats and stardom to keep OU on the winning track, it shouldn't be a difficult decision.
“At the end of the year, [the future] will take care of itself,” Young said.
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