“I felt like I could do everything I want do at a blueblood right here at home.”
With those words, Norman (Okla.) North point guard Trae Young made Oklahoma basketball and all of its fans very happy as the five-star committed to the Sooners last week.
It was a message. A message about what Lon Kruger has been able to do in his time in Norman, highlighted by the trip to the Final Four last year.
A message about Kruger being able to keep the best in-state prospects home. But a trend that wasn’t always the case.
There had to be that somebody to get things rolling again for the Sooners. Blake Griffin was every bit as great as advertised, but after that? The state fell off.
Top names left. Daniel Orton went to Kentucky. Xavier Henry went north to Kansas. OU didn’t even look at Ryan Spangler initially out of college.
Somebody had to change that. That somebody was point guard Jordan Woodard, who chose OU for the 2013 class.
“I just try to use the things I’ve done, coming from Edmond Memorial, being a graduate, starting off at Northeast, just encourage guys it’s possible to stay at home and contribute,” Woodard said. “Your comfort level. I was more comfortable staying at home with the coaching staff. They encouraged me to stay around.”
Young, ranked No. 21 in the Scout 100, is the highest-ranked commit for Lon Kruger. He might end up being the most important recruit in the Kruger era. Woodard might be No. 2 because of what he was able to do in opening the doors.
“Very important,” said Kruger about Woodard staying home way back when. “I think it was a sign that Jordan wanted to be here and Kristian Doolittle wanted to be here and other guys from Oklahoma … staying home and playing here was really important …
“Jordan was a premier player in the state during that recruiting year and for him to make that statement of confidence of wanting to be here and all those things that go into a decision are very important.”
Woodard started it. Then OU was able to land Spangler, who transferred from Gonzaga. Then Kristian Doolittle came along for the ride for the 2016 class.
OU already has one Scout 100 signee from the state for 2017 in Harrah’s Brady Manek. Now it has two. Now its 2017 high school prospects from the United States are both Oklahomans. A far cry from five or six years ago. OU also has a signee from Finland in forward Hannes Polla.
It couldn’t just be about staying home for Young, though. It had to be more than that. It is more than that. The success of Griffin and Woodard is nice. The development of Buddy Hield was huge. Add it all up, and it made sense.
“It played a little bit of a role,” Young said. “It shows that those guys can come here and do the same thing that you can do at another school. It played a little bit of a factor.”
Woodard’s legacy could end up going beyond Young, time will tell that. But a big part of Woodard’s legacy will be his selflessness to put the team first. OU made the NCAA tournament in his first three years, including berths in the Sweet 16 and Final Four.
Woodard a key ingredient in all three of those runs. Now the torch is being passed on from one great in-state point guard to another.
OU is officially transitioning from the Jordan Woodard era to the Trae Young era. Expectations are going to be high for Young. He’s going to be under a microscope from this point going forward, but he’s also the perfect guy for the job.
“I can help lead our team and put us on the biggest stages of college basketball next year and the year after or whatever how long I'm in college, but I feel like what I can do at OU I can do at another school,” Young said. “I feel like I can leave a big legacy here. I know I can't do it by myself and that's why I feel like this is a great fit for me because of the young guys like Kam McGusty.
“I feel like we're going to have a great back court next year. And then Coach Kruger - Coach Kruger knows how to develop his guards. All of his best teams have been great on both ends, but he's always been a defensive coach and I feel like his teams that win have been great on the offensive end as well.”