Dean's List: 1-On-1 With Trae Young On Life On, Off NBA Court

Tuesday, February 19th 2019, 7:51 pm

Young Announces Partnering In OKC Basketball Project

Trae Young keeps up a hectic schedule in his first NBA season. But he consistently remains in touch with people back in his home state and living up to pre-draft promises. The 20-year-old often spoke of the importance of helping the lives of young kids in Oklahoma, while his name recognition and popularity continue to rise in professional circles.

Seems the family values learned while growing up in the home of Rayford and Candice Young have helped ground their son, making it natural for him to want to inspire youths;  particularly young basketball players who dream of becoming the next Trae Young. He said yesterday that “as soon as I got drafted I was wanting to do things to help both in Atlanta and where I grew up.”

We spent some time with and interviewed the flashy rookie point guard of the Atlanta Hawks Monday night, after the announcement that the Santa Fe Life Family Life Center (SFFLC) will serve as the Official Home to the Trae Young Elite Youth Basketball Program. We watched AAU teams compete on courts today that now have Trae’s logo featured at half courts.

Adidas is helping sponsor seven boys and four girls Trae Young Elite AAU teams. The partnership between Young, Santa Fe Family Life Center, and Adidas begins immediately. Young will help run multiple basketball camps per year and participate in charitable programs as part of the Center’s mission to provide access to youth sports for all. The Center is located near NW 63rd and Broadway Extension in Oklahoma City.

The attached video below is an extended interview (over eight minutes) focusing on the basketball part of Young’s life. It will air this week during sportscasts, in blogs and on Sunday night’s Oklahoma Ford Sports Blitz.


Trae Shines On National Stage At All-Star Weekend 

What a weekend it was in Charlotte, home of NBA All-Star Weekend. And for Young, home to the Taco Bells Skills competition. The final round it was Young vs Jayson Tatum of Boston. Tatum won when he banked in his 3-point shot from near half court as he’d fallen behind Young after the lay-up portion. Tatum’s heave was released a split second before Young’s standard 3-point attempt. The competitive side of Young shone through as his first post-competition interview comments when he said he would return next season and get his win in the event during NBA All-Star Weekend.

Young defeated Sacramento point guard De’Aaron Fox in the first round. Then he beat Dallas rookie forward Luka Doncic to advance to the finals. Young got the best of the player many have pointed to as having made Dallas the winner in the trade that sent the overall fifth pick of the draft to Atlanta on draft night last summer. There had to be strong feelings for the former Norman North and Oklahoma player when Young sent Doncic to the showers.

The night before the nationally televised skills challenge, Young played very well in the Rising Stars game that tipped off the 2019 All-Star weekend. Young came off the bench and could have easily been chosen as the MVP of the game. Young’s dazzling style of play was even more impressive than his near triple-double numbers: 25 points, 10 assists and 7 boards in the Team USA win.

Tuning Out Critics And Gaining Admirers

As is the case with any high-profile athlete, Young has been both praised and has dealt with criticism. During a challenging start to the season – not unexpected by any means seeing as he’s playing on a bad team, in a rebuilding mode, and in front of a fan base that’s not exactly as gung-ho or loyal as what we’re used to seeing in OKC, or in San Antonio --  many Hawks fans were disenchanted. Complaints of too many low percentage shots, being loose with the ball, poor overall defense. But the loudest critics were really voicing displeasure because of the success Doncic – the player many wanted from the start who started the season with a bang. Young found himself behind the eight-ball just two years removed from Norman North High School. However, Young’s relentless approach and work ethic has led to consistent improvement and a few more wins than some expected, while calming some of the saner wannabe-scouts.

The chore of attaining NBA success does not come easy. And it didn’t for Trae, whose lack of size and exceptional athletic skills – comparatively speaking -- led some to predict he’d have trouble getting shots off, finishing at the rim, and simply be overmatched in a league with athletes like OKC’s Russell Westbrook.

Personally, I’m encouraged with the noticeable improvement and the tenacity shown that’s clearly helped him becoming a better and better player. While a growing number of fans, former players and even media members appear to agree with that sentiment, we know the Negative Nancy’s exist, and that as is the case with anyone in any line of business, there’s a faction who disagree with my assessment. There is not debate that the kid has a flamboyant style about him that is fun (for most of us) to watch. A flair reminiscent of one Pistol Pete Maravich who arrived on the scene as an Atlanta rookie some 48 years ago. I know because I had an obsession with Pete: tried to play like him, wear the floppy socks and long hair like him, walk like him, talk like him. I remember vividly listening in my lime green Volkswagen with a blue stripe down the side – copying the jersey of Pete and the Hawks – to the late Skip Caray call every game on Atlanta’s powerful AM radio. I’ll stop, before I go get my photo taken with Pete after an Atlanta practice in 1973. Point is, Trae has some Pete in him. The player who scored a ton and entertained fans who bought tickets to witness a style of ball that was 50-years ahead of its time.  

Like Maravich, who had tons of loud critics, Young is dealing with that part of the game for the first tie. With that in mind, here’s an example of some pro and con analysis from two respected basketball people with extensive knowledge of Young  -- speaking to me as anonymous sources. The first: “Just love his work ethic and dedication to improving. He’s a likable kid who is maturing as we speak. Has incredible instincts/God-gifted. Has the passing ability to lead NBA in assists if he ever decided to focus on that and had talented finishers around the rim. His range is amazing and I have no doubt with better shot selection and time, Trae will become a terrific three-point shooter. His feel for the game is exceptional. Learned a lot from his dad. His handle is like he’s playing with a yo-yo. Impressed so far and have no doubt he’ll have a big NBA career.”

On the same day, the second professional analysis took a more sobering approach: “Trae is a unique person. I don’t think he has the athleticism to be an NBA star, but do believe he’ll have a nice career. Not so sure his current style equates to winning (see OU last year). But it may be needed with the lack of talent/rebuilding going on in Atlanta. He has made ample improvement adjusting to the speed of the game. Naysayers are being proven wrong in that he’s finding a way to get to the basket and is getting better quickly. I root for him and believe he’ll have a successful career – just not the unrealistic expectations people have thrown out there for years.”

Young, whose size and lack of extraordinary athletic skills led critics to predict he’d have trouble getting shots off, finishing at the rim, and simply be overmatched in a league with athletes like OKC’s Russell Westbrook, is seeing his numbers improve. He’s started all 58 games and averages 30.1 minutes per game. Young looks to improve on his 40.1 FG percentage, .312 three-point percentage, and an already-stout .798 FT percentage. Considering his high-risk high-reward handle and passing, his 3.9 turnovers per game is understandable.

As this rookie season progresses, Young’s numbers improve. He’s started all 58 games and averages 30.1 minutes per game. Young looks to improve on his 40.1 FG percentage, .312 three-point percentage, and an already-stout .798 FT percentage. Considering his high-risk high-reward handle and passing, his 3.9 turnovers per game are understandable – although he disagrees on the interview above.

The bar for Trae Young has always been high. And continues to this day. He wouldn’t want it any other way. I sense he’s continuing to gain respect and supporters. And dealing with predictable challenges better each day.  His father attends every game. And if Young can continue to improve at this current pace, it’s possible he could become a regular at future All-Star weekends. But nothing is a given. And there’s a big difference from the individual entertainment competitions Young excelled in over the weekend,  and earning a spot alongside Lebron, KD and Russ. Almost forgot – PG too!

Meantime, Young continues to  inspire young kids back in Oklahoma. Kiddos wanting to emulate the flamboyant playing sharpshooter. Just like Trae was inspired by and wanted to be the next Steve Nash. And Buddy Hield.


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