BY JOHN ROHDE
Special to SoonerSports.com
Nov. 28, 2017
During the first week of practice in early October, Oklahoma men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger admitted his team would lean heavily on true freshman point guard Trae Young.
“He’s going to be the center of a lot of what’s going on,” Kruger said at the time. “He’s good with the ball, he keeps pressure on the defense all the time and he likes distributing the ball. He’s got a good feel for the game. Add all that together, he’s a guy who make others around him better.”
The 6-2, 180-pound Young welcomed the responsibility.
“No, I don’t mind at all,” Young said. “I’ve always grown up being the leader on my team. I think that’s definitely put me in a position to be ready for moments like this, being able to come in right away and be leaned on a little bit more than a lot of freshmen.”
Young certainly was ready for the moment on Sunday morning against Oregon at the PK80 Invitational at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Ore.
The most heralded recruit in Kruger’s seven seasons at OU, Young erupted for 43 points – 30 in the second half – as the Sooners posted a 90-80 victory in a contest played roughly 112 miles north of the Oregon campus.
OU indeed leaned heavily on its prize rookie.
“We wore him out today, that’s for sure,” Kruger said with a chuckle Sunday night as his team was about to fly back to Oklahoma.
In a game that started at 10 a.m. Portland time, Young was a rude wake-up call for the Ducks, shooting 11-of-22 from the field, 4-of-11 from 3-point range, 17-of-18 from the free-throw line and also adding seven assists, four rebounds and two steals.
The key to amassing 43 points on 22 shots is getting to the free-throw line, which Young repeatedly did.
“A lot of it was just taking advantage of what the defense was giving me,” Young explained. “They were making a lot of switches and putting a lot of bigs on me. Instead of me settling for long jump shots and a lot of 3s, I wanted to blow by them and try to get to the line. That put a lot of pressure on their defense. Coach told me to not settle all the time. He wanted me to continue to be aggressive with the 3-ball, but also to go by them and try to make something happen that way.”
Scoring 43 points in a game is nothing new to Young. Heck, it was the norm at Norman North High School last year, where he averaged 42.6 points during his senior season to become a McDonald’s All-American.
Posting these numbers as a college freshman certainly is not the norm, however, particularly against a Final Four team from a year ago.
Young’s 43 points are the most by a Division I player so far this season and the most by an OU player since national player of the year Buddy Hield scored 46 in a triple-overtime game at Kansas on Jan. 4, 2016.
“He’s not going to get 43 every game, but he’s going to free up others,” Kruger said of Young.
After the game, Young was flooded with text messages and tweets of congratulations.
Two tweets came from Hield, now with the NBA Sacramento Kings: “Trae Young Issa problem” and “Go get you 40 then Trae.”
ESPN’s Jay Williams tweeted: “All I know is @thetraeyoung is officially the real deal. Had 33 pts and 8 ast on Friday & just dropped 43 pts & 7 ast to beat Oregon. #Oklahoma got a real one.”
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports tweeted: “Trae Young is a collegiate version of Steph Curry — seriously. Scored 43 as Oklahoma beats Oregon. Averaged 34.7 PPG in three games at the PK80. Flat. Out. Stud.”
“That was really humbling to see, that those guys were watching the game,” Young said.
Young became the 15th Sooners player to reach the 40-point plateau, but is only the second freshman to do so. Wayman Tisdale, a product of Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, is the only OU freshman to score more with outings of 51, 46 and 44 points in the 1982-83 season.
Tisdale owns the school freshman scoring record with a 24.5-point average. Young currently is averaging 28.2 points per game and is one-tenth of a point shy of being the nation’s leading scorer, ranking second to Femi Olujobi of North Carolina A&T (28.3).
Informed he was the first OU player since Hield to score 40-plus, Young said, “That’s crazy.”
Informed Tisdale is the only OU freshman ever to score 40-plus, Young said, “That’s even crazier.”
No other Big 12 player currently is averaging more than 20 points per game. Young also is tied for the Big 12 lead in 3-pointers made per game (3.4), ranks second in assists (8.6) and fourth in steals (2.2).
Asked how aware he is of his statistical status, Young said, “I’m going to be 100-percent real with you, the only thing that matters to me are the win and loss columns. My teammates know I’m going to do whatever it takes to win the game that night, whether it’s going out and getting 15 assists or going out and getting 40 points. I’m going to do whatever my team needs from me. That’s just going to happen.”
When defenders give Young space on the outside, he shoots. When defenders apply pressure outside, Young drives past them.
“He can shoot it well. Range isn’t really a concern,” Kruger said. “People are going to push up (defend Young closely at long range). The fact that he can shoot with good range as they push up, that gives him the opportunity to go by. He’s very quick with the ball. When they have to step up and take away the range, then that makes you even quicker. One complements the other, no matter what starts first. Stretch the defense and attack.”
OU and Oregon held a private scrimmage in Las Vegas last month and the Ducks reportedly won by four.
“Well, in that game, Trae Young didn’t get 43,” said Oregon head coach Dana Altman, who served as an assistant under Kruger at Kansas State from 1986-89. “He (Young) controlled the game and got to the line.”
For his efforts, Young was selected Big 12 Player of the Week for the second time in the first three weeks of the season.
“I’m pretty excited about the whole group and Trae is the cornerstone for all that,” Kruger said. “He did a great job.”