Trae Young has a poster of Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving on his bedroom wall. It has a list of goals set by Irving on his path to the eventual No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft – from the best in his school to the best in the country.
Young, the No. 3 point guard and the No. 26 player in the 2017 class, has almost reached the latter. But those weren’t the first goals for the explosively athletic player who has a great first step, instinctive vision and range well beyond the 3-point arc.
Like any other boy with basketball dreams, Young’s first goal was to make the NBA. Forget about being the best in high school or playing in college: An elementary-aged Young watched Allen Iverson and Steve Nash and wanted to emulate them. Injected with basketball early in his life from watching his dad play at Texas Tech and then around Europe, Young was exposed to the sport at a high level from a young age.
He fell in love with the game when he stated serving as the Oklahoma Sooners ball boy under former coach Jeff Capel. His father’s playing career had ended, and his family moved from Portugal to Norman.
Young, who wasn’t yet 10 years old, was enthralled.
“It was just fun for me,” he said. “Back then, it was just fun, playing to have fun. When I got older, that’s when it started getting more serious, knowing that the dream had a chance to be a reality.”
Over the years, Young has slowly checked off a few of the goals on that Irving poster. He’s the highest-rated player in the 2017 class in the state of Oklahoma and the highest-rated Oklahoma-based player since Xavier Henry (Kansas) and Daniel Orton (Kentuky) in 2009.
Last Friday, Young scored a career-high 60 points in yet another Norman North blowout, helping the Timberwolves pass the 100-point mark in the win. His main goal right now is winning the state championship at Norman North. That has never happened in school history, and there’s a look of pride in Young’s eyes when he talks about it.
“I want to be the first to do it,” Young said.
His list of evolved goals continues from there: Win Gatorade Player of the Year in Oklahoma, win the Peach Jam on the Nike EYBL circuit – the biggest single event of the AAU season, be voted a McDonald’s All-American. None of those goals were on his list as a boy, but as Young has grown older, he has started to understand that it takes hard work to reach that initial goal.
Young has picked up on the influences around him. He draws work ethic from his father and a collection of old VHS tapes that Young still watches from his father’s playing days. His mother, who Young said is motivating for him, also inspires him. He looks up to current Oklahoma City Thunder all-star Kevin Durant for his continued drive.
Because of that, the dream has molded into more tangible steps. And as the other accolades began to line up for Young, so did the college coaches. On the first day of December, Young narrowed his list down to 11 schools: Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Stanford, SMU, Texas Tech, Texas, Duke, Missouri, Virginia and Oklahoma State.
He’s planning on taking a few official visits soon and narrowing down his list just before the AAU season – after what he hopes will be a long playoffs run for Norman North. There are a few schools that stick out to him right now. Kansas, Kentucky, Stanford, Texas and Oklahoma are among them.
Young has said that he wants to make his decision in mid-summer, likely around the Peach Jam. College is starting to take focus as the next big goal.
“He doesn’t want to go anywhere where he knows he’ll have to sit,” said Ray Young, Trae’s father and former NBA player. “He knows he’s going to have to work for it. It’s going to be a hard adjustment going from high school to college, but he wants to go somewhere it’s going to be a good feel for him, where he can step in right away and be a factor. . . . That’s one of the biggest decisions when you’re looking at colleges.”
As a result, Young has started to think about decisions that could help him reach his goal of playing significant minutes or even starting as a freshman at a major conference program. In August, Young told the Norman Transcript that he might be leaving Norman North after this year and playing his senior year for a prep school – most likely Findlay Prep in Las Vegas or Montverde Christian Academy in Orlando.
“A big reason why I would go to prep school is to prepare me more for the next level,” said Young, who added that going to prep schools is not a 100 percent certainty yet. “So I can come in more ready than I would be if I stayed here another year. . . . I want to be able to step on campus and be ready from Day 1. Prep school is definitely going to prepare me for that a lot easier than it will be playing here in Oklahoma.”
There are things Young would miss.
He has a clear passion for Norman North and loves playing in front of his friends and family. But even his family knows that it would better for him to leave the school if he wants to accomplish his next set of goals.
“It has nothing to do with anything else, except preparing him for college,” Ray Young said. “. . . That’s why it’s called prep school. It prepares you for college. You’re also playing against the best players in your grade and the same players you are going to play against at the next level.”
Trae Young’s first memories of basketball came in Lubbock, Texas, where his father was a four-year contributor to the Red Raiders and joined the program’s 1,000-point club as a two-year starter. Ray Young was drafted by the Houston Rockets, where Trae Young got his first taste of professional basketball while watching his father.
His NBA dream was born.
Smaller goals along the way have helped Young get closer to that original goal, but there are still more things to accomplish and more work to achieve.
“He’s got so much further to go and so much work to do,” Ray Young said. “We’re just focusing on getting better, not just living in the moment but preparing for the future.”