Will Trae Young's Roller-Coaster Season, Draft Week Get Him to the Right Place?

Yaron Weitzman@YaronWeitzmanFeatured ColumnistJune 21, 2018

Oklahoma's Trae Young speaks to reporters during a media availability with the top basketball prospects in the NBA Draft, Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

NEW YORK — Trae Young strolled into a conference room stuffed with dozens of eager reporters clutching cameras and cellphones.

This was Wednesday, the day before the 2018 NBA draft. For Young, it was the penultimate day of the grueling car wash that is the NBA's predraft process.

Young scanned the room and found the table with his name written on a plaque. He was squeezed into a navy blazer that fit snugly around his broadening shoulders. He says he's added 18 pounds of muscle over the past three months.

He took a seat as dozens of outstretched arms gripping cellphones besieged the air around him. The reporters had questions.

Did Young think his diminutive (for the NBA) stature—he's "just" 6'2" and a bit over 180 pounds—would be a problem in the pros? And why did he think he struggled in the second half of his lone season at Oklahoma, where he led the country in points per game and assists but saw his production dip after a scorching start? And could he defend NBA guards? What has he worked on since the college season has ended? On and on and on it went.

Young had something for all these questions, each answer one he's provided multiple times over the past month. Mostly, these could be summed up by a response he repeated through his day of media appearances.

"I prepared extremely hard coming into the college season and making a huge impact right away," he said. "And I'm working two times as hard this summer preparing to get into the NBA level. I want to make a huge impact right away."

"That's it, thank you," a publicist called out soon after. Young stepped off the mini stage elevating him above the pack. "We got to go," she said, looking at her phone. Young was booked for an appearance at the NBA Store, a half-mile west, for a New Era event hosted by the company Fanatics.

With the NCAA's amateurism rules no longer weighing him down, Young could now represent two major apparels at one event.

A train of publicists and managers trailed Young when he arrived at the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue. The store's second floor was already packed with kids, plus the adult chaperon. Most had paid $25 for a New Era NBA cap, which granted them the opportunity to pose for a picture with Young and receive an autograph.

"This is cool for me; I like getting to meet people," Young said.

He's been stopped a few times in New York City over the previous couple of days by strangers looking for autographs. "Yesterday, I was walking into my hotel and I wouldn't sign autographs, and someone threw me a $100 bill to sign," Young said. He smiled. "I didn't sign it. I just gave it back to my man."

Some teenagers might experience such interactions as a violation. Young shook his head when asked if he felt the same way.

"I mean, you gotta enjoy it because it's a blessing," he said. "Everybody wants to be in this position. You can't take this stuff for granted. For me to be able to do this and be in this position to do certain things, this is a dream come true."

It's a dream Young said he visualizes regularly. "I see different things. Tears, smiles, my family's faces." But, he added, "I also want to just live in the moment and let everything take care of itself."

As Young sat there, rumors swirled about where he might land in the draft.

Some believed he could hear his named called as early as No. 6, when the Orlando Magic are on the clock. Others thought he could fall into the early teens and be scooped up by the Los Angeles Clippers. One report, courtesy of Yahoo Sports' Chris Mannix, had the Atlanta Hawks, who own the No. 3 pick, considering trading back because they thought Young was being undervalued.

His future home could be in a bustling metropolis like New York or in a smaller, blue-collar town like Cleveland. If the Hawks nab him, he'll be at the center of a rebuild. If he falls to the Clippers, he could find himself competing for playing time on a team gunning for the playoffs.

It's a weird thing, the idea that a 19-year-old can know nothing about his future one day and the next have it all mapped out for him by factors out of his control. It's enough to, come draft night, make even the most stoic of souls sweat.

"It doesn't matter how high I go, though," Young said. "So I won't get nervous. The number you get picked at only matters for one night. You gotta take care of on-the-court stuff after."

"We're done with media," a publicist said after about five minutes. "You can see the fans now." Young smiled. One kid, who looked to be high school age, approached him holding a Lakers hat.

"He can't sign team hats," a handler said. Instead, Young signed the gray sleeveless T-shirt the kid was wearing. The two posed for a picture, and the kid smiled as he walked away, past the line for autographs stretching to the back of the store.


Yaron Weitzman covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow Yaron on Twitter @YaronWeitzman, listen to his Knicks-themed podcast here and sign up for his newsletter here.