For the past month (and then some), the Trae Young we had all grown accustomed to watching ball out on the court was nowhere to be found. In the beginning, the college basketball world was watching because Young was a phenomenon like never before. Then came the six straight losses, and all those eyes remained affixed, but not for the mastery. They wanted to see how far into the abyss this thing would spiral — the crashing and burning of the hype machine’s newest media darling.
Well guess what, folks? He’s back, and it’s not just hype.
On Saturday night, Trae Young turned in one of his most impressive performances of the season, but the numbers won’t necessarily reflect that. The 28 points were nice, but not earth-shattering by Young’s standards. The deep three-pointers were, well, deep, but that’s just Young’s range - even if I’m not always too thrilled when he takes them. What made this performance so impressive was that for the first time this season,Young showed that he could withstand an avalanche of noisy doubters. And for the first time in quite a while (January?), he played efficiently within himself and elevated his teammates at a time when they absolutely needed it most.
Before I delve into Young’s performance, something that needs to be highlighted from last night’s game against Kansas State was how the rest of the Oklahoma Sooners played. Sure, getting double-digit scoring contributions from a trio of guys not named Trae Young is outstanding, but it was more about the attitude they played with and the fun they were all having. Trae Young leads by example, and when his energy is up and he’s having fun, you better believe his teammates are going to follow suit. The positivity on the floor was palpable, and that’s something that won’t show up in a box score.
That being said, I now want to get into what Trae Young actually did on the stat sheet Saturday night. Young’s 11 total field goal attempts were the second lowest number of shots he’s taken in a game all season. His season low is nine, which also came in a win (January 23rd vs. Kansas). His 64% field goal percentage was also his second highest this season, only trailing the aforementioned game against KU in which he shot 78% from the field. Young was also special from beyond the arc, making six of his 10 attempts, by far the best he’s done since last month’s win over Baylor.
Now, you may be wondering to yourself, “what exactly happened to Trae Young?”. It was a combination of factors, and we all have our theories. For one, the competition night in and night out in the Big 12 is as good as it gets, and it’s easy for a team to crash and burn if it loses focus or just doesn’t play well. Another factor is motivation. No, not Trae’s motivation, but the guys guarding him. It’s only human nature to want to put forth your best effort to stop the guy everybody and their dog is talking about. But it’s not just the players themselves — it’s the coaches, as well. The coaches in this league are about as bright as they come, and they’ve focused a lot of their energy into containing Young. Finally, Young is still... young! His youth is part of the reason why his season is as remarkable as it is. Trae won’t be able to legally buy a beer until Baker Mayfield is in his second NFL season. Progression and maturation on the horizon.
Another thing to consider is just the physical grind of the season, which is something Shaka Smart actually touched on following OU’s loss to Texas. It a conference slate that allows for virtually no breaks is going to take a physical toll on most freshmen, and Young is no different. It’s especially relevant in Young’s case when considering how often he has the ball in his hands.
Then there’s the whole media angle. In a span of about three months, ESPN and others have built him up and torn him down. Needless to say, I would not have handled that very well at his age. Considering all that he’s had to deal with, a rough stretch seemed sort of inevitable. There have been instances in which you could tell that all of it it had gotten to him a bit, but perhaps he’s had enough time to process everything and get back to basics.
I think it’s safe to say that what we’re witnessing here in this season of Trae Young is a microcosm of the growth stages of a star athlete. It should be a bit more clear when it’s all said and done, but for now we’ve seen the rise, the shine, and the dive. But if last night was any indicator of things to come... stay tuned, folks. There’s reason to believe that Young and his teammates have caught a second wind.
Welcome back, Trae Young.
Great start for Trae Young. "I'm back." pic.twitter.com/BTcluoWjgJ— Sam Gannon (@SamGannon87) February 24, 2018
Follow Crimson & Cream Machine on Twitter!