POWDER SPRINGS, GA. -- McEachern had just grabbed a defensive rebound, and quickly hustled the ball up-floor for what looked to be a 3-on-3 fast break. Seeing his star sophomore trailing the pack, Nick Chaykowsky yelled for his team to slow down.
Upon crossing mid-court, Trae Golden received the pass, blew past a Murray County defender and easily converted a lay-up for two of his 23 points on the evening.
Chaykowsky, the second-year McEachern coach of his Powder Springs, Ga. Protégé applauded the sequence. Turns out, when Chaykowsky calls for “patience,” his team interprets that as a sign to find their playmaker.
“I think as a team, we have confidence and when you have confidence, I think you play with confidence,” Chaykowsky said after watching his team cruise to a 30-point victory Friday, “and I think that’s a good thing.”
Golden, a 6-1 combo guard is the go-to guy for Chaykowksy’s team, now 11-2 on the season. He averaged 15.1 points and three assists per game last year as just a freshman, and is off to a torrid pace in 2007-08 scoring 23.5 a game heading into Friday’s game.
Ordinarily, one may be fooled by the pressure attached to carrying a team. Not this kid.
This one is something different. You may say he’s the Golden boy of McEachern basketball.
Basketball is in his blood. It’s in his roots. It’s in his entire family.
“Tray has played organized basketball since he was four years old,” said his father Robert. “From that point forward, from my background and taste for basketball, I thought that he had an opportunity to be a different kind of player than just a regular player.
“He’s sixteen now,” Robert added. “He can be a special player.”
Since age four, Golden has only gotten better. In third grade, he was elevated to play against sixth –graders to compensate for his advanced skills. In junior high school, Golden was already competing against high school players.
Ranked as the No. 9-overall player in the nation by ScoutHoops.com, Golden is one of the most talented players in Cobb County in recent memory. That’s saying a lot for a location that’s produced (Sac ramento Kings’ star) Shareef Abdur-Rahim, (Alabama forward) Jermareo Davidson and (Utah center) Luke Nevill to name a few.
“It’s kind of easy (for him), I guess,” Chaykowsky said. “He knows the game so well. He understands the game so well. He’s so mature for his age things come easy for him.”
Home of the Indians
Despite some heavy notoriety being made for himself Golden is far from the first rising star to attend John McEachern High School, a campus-style public school nestled in the Southwestern portion of Cobb County.
In addition to Abdur-Rahim, current Atlanta Hawks’ sensation Josh Smith played three seasons at McEachern before transferring to powerhouse Oak Hill Academy as a senior. Smith was a two-time All-Georgia selection, averaging 20.6 points his junior year.
Smith also played with another NBA player at McEachern.
Morris Almond, a 6-6 guard from Rice was the first-round pick of the Utah Jazz this past season. He was the twenty-fifth pick of the Jazz after scoring 26.4 points per game and finishing fourth all-time in scoring at Rice.
However, Golden shares more than just the same high school as the former standout.
He’s also first cousin of Almond.
“It means a lot – even though he’s my cousin he’s like a best friend to me,” Golden said of his relationship with Almond. “You hear that saying that only a couple of people make it to the NBA, but you see someone in your family do it, and you’re like, “well I can do it too.”
Almond is the nephew of Golden’s mother Carolyn. Basketball really is in Trae’s blood.
His father Robert played high school basketball in Toledo in the 1970’s, before attending Ohio State where he graduated. Trae’s sister Ryan also was a McEachern star, becoming a 1,000-point scorer before graduating in 2004 for the girl’s program.
While Robert stakes his usual seat in the far, upper corner of the gymnasium watching his son intently each and every game, Carolyn is busy as the McEachern scorekeeper tracking her baby’s point totals.
“We love basketball,” she says. “I don’t think his dad has missed a game since he was four or five years old.”
According to Carolyn, Trae is sure to call or email his cousin whenever he’s got something to talk about that is above and beyond what he would ordinarily discuss with parents.
“Morris has a level head and he kind of makes sense of things,” she added.
Once a Buckeye, Always a Buckeye
Having his pick of the litter, Golden faced a tough decision. With the who’s who of college basketball programs knocking down his door hoping to secure a verbal commitment, Golden had to decide where he was going to attend school after his high school eligibility expired.
Kentucky, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Clemson were just a few of many scholarship offers for the rising star. But it took only one weekend for everything to come to a head.
“We were at an AAU tournament and the Buckeyes found out about him,” Robert recalled from this past July. “They found out about Trae and we heard from (Thad) Matta after that.”
Being an Ohio State alum Robert said Trae was excited in the interest from the Buckeyes, even though his own pops had lived in Georgia for the past 30 years.
“He knew about Ohio State from the time he knew about colleges and collegiate sports,” Robert said. “He knew about Thad.”
Golden’s interest in the Buckeyes remained sizzling hot until mid-October. Many people knew Ohio State was in good shape for Golden, but no one realized just how much – even his parents.
The family returned home from an unofficial visit one weekend in October, and Trae dropped a bombshell on them.
“He told us he wanted to commit,” Carolyn remembered. “He surprised me – I didn’t think he would make a decision that soon.
“Most college coaches, they’re so convincing,” she added. “They’ll be talking about things and then they’ll have you sold on something. Don’t get me wrong – Thad Matta was real good. But I think Trae was beyond that – he was sold on the program.”
No matter how persuasive other coaches were going to be in grilling Golden’s decision, the bigger test was in his own house.
He had to convince his mother that going 550 miles away for college was the best choice. Not just that, but that it was a choice he was able to make so quickly.
“I thought he was joking at first – I was like, ‘Oh get out of here with that, you can’t be serious’,” she said with a laugh. “He kept on. I asked him before we even really considered, “well why them? What’s wrong with this school?
“He said, ‘mom, I know I can go there or there. But I really, really want to go to Ohio State’,” she said.
Robert was thrilled, but also apprehensive.
“I did not have an inkling (a commitment was about to happen). Personally, I just wanted him to wait around and go through the process,” he said. “Then we went to Ohio State and he decided he wanted to do it.
“Being an Ohio State graduate, I couldn’t very well deny him that,” Robert noted. “There’s a strong loyalty, commitment to be true to the Buckeye program.”
Relishing the opportunity to play for the Buckeyes, Golden hopes to follow his father’s footsteps to Ohio State and one day, his cousin’s to the professional ranks.
But it started with Matta and Ohio State assistant John Groce, who Trae said won him over immediately.
“They’re great people,” he said. “DeShaun (Thomas), Jared (Sullinger), all of them – we’re real close. It’s like one big family.”
Growing up a Buckeye, Sullinger already understands the tradition and passion. The 6-8 sophomore lives in Columbus and watched his brother J.J. play his final three seasons for Ohio State.
Meanwhile, Thomas is or isn’t committed to the program from Ft. Wayne, Ind. Depending on who you ask. However, the 6-7 forward is already penciled in by Golden.
“We want to win a National Championship together,” he said.
The Next Step
Two and a half years are a long time to wait for anyone. For Golden, it may seem like an eternity.
He’ll spend that time trying to win a Class 5A championship in Georgia. He’ll play the summer circuit with the Atlanta Celtics, a renowned AAU program. He’ll go to the camps. He’ll continue to watch Ohio State on television, and occasionally in person until the time comes he can arrive on campus.
When he does finally get there, he figures to play as a combo getting time at both the point guard and shooting guard positions.
“They (Ohio State) will space the floor out and they want me to do a lot of scoring and also running the offense,” Golden explained of his future role.
In the interim, Golden will continue to work on the skills that are necessary to get him there.
While Golden stresses his defense needing work, his coach is worried about teams turning a positive into a negative.
“I think he just needs to learn, something that he’s learned quickly, is that people are going to try to stop him,” Chaykowsky said. “Because of that, teams are going to play box-and-one, more aggressive man and deny him the basketball. He’s got to be able to learn how to play without the ball.”
While 6-feet-1 right now, Golden may grow a few more inches. His father is 6-4, and his cousins, including Almond, are over 6-5. By the time Golden arrives at Ohio State, he may grow to 6-4.
Having never missed one of his games, his father may continue that trend even upon arriving in Columbus.
According to Carolyn, she and her husband are contemplating retirement in two years so they can relocate to Columbus for Trae’s Ohio State career.
“I don’t think permanently, but just long enough to support it,” she said. “After we get there, we’ll re-evaluate it.”
Half-jokingly, she adds that they’ve taken some heat over that choice.
“We’ve had some people say, “ya’ll are really going to follow him to college?” Carolyn said. “We’re not really following him to college. We don’t want to go on to campus and interact with his friends and all that. That’s his life. We just like the basketball part of it.
“Even if we didn’t go to Ohio, we’d make attending his games a priority,” she concluded.
In the long wait until that happens, Golden will continue to do what he does best – play basketball. It’s been all he’s known since being a kid.
With an aggressive scoring streak, and a passer’s instinct that would make John Stockton proud, Golden plays loose and intense whenever stepping on the floor.
He and his teammates enjoy making fancy no-look passes, lobs and backdoor cuts. It’s like a playground for them.
“We have fun,” Golden said. “There’s competitiveness but we all try hard to work together to beat the other team. That’s the best competitiveness you can have.”
When Chaykowsky isn’t seeing the competitive spirit he likes, he’ll call for patience and ask them to slow things down.
And for Golden, that’s usually his signal.