By Jordan Burton
Springfield, MO – Kickapoo senior Cameron Davis tweeted “…everyone go check out my man @TheTraeYoung tonight at Glendale at 9! He’s going to put on a show tonight.” Davis capped the tweet with some emojis.
See, Davis – teammates with 5-star guard Trae Young on renown program MOKAN Elite – knew something that the rest of the capacity crowd at Glendale High School didn’t quite know…
Young is a savage between the lines of a basketball court.
That nearly goes without saying, considering Young’s final list includes Kentucky and Kansas, and Jayhawks assistant coach Norm Roberts was in attendance to see the 6-foot-2 senior drop a gym-record 52 points on Glendale in a 110-96 Friday night in the 5th Annual Ozark Mountain Shootout.
But 52 points… that’s not normal… right?
Typically no, but there’s nothing normal about Young’s game.
“I never know how many points he has,” said Norman North head coach Bryan Merritt. “I would have guessed tonight that it was 40. I knew he had a lot but I never really know because he scores in such quick spurts and hits so many 3s that you don’t really know… I’ve seen him score a lot of points and I give him and all of our players a lot of freedom because that’s what he needs to be able to do his thing. If he shoots five shots from the halfcourt line and two or three of them go in, that’s as good as him shooting it from 19’9” so I’m cool with it.”
His 52 points came on 17-for-29 shooting from the field, including a blistering 9-for-15 performance from 3. Young put a bow on his epic night by pulling down six rebounds and snagging five steals.
Young put on such a show that the fans that were changing “overrated” during the second quarter were the same fans that were lined up by the dozens for autographs and pictures following the game.
Nearly every request met with a smile and compliance.
Merritt and his Timberwolves are no strangers to any of it. Not the lines of fans, not the stepback 3s from 35 feet and certainly not the raucous crowds. In fact, Merritt believes the best way to try to contain Young is to not make him mad.
“It’s been happening since his sophomore year,” said Merritt. “His freshman year he started for us but he was small physically. He still averaged 13-14 points. That summer he played well in the EYBL and more people knew about him so his sophomore year is when it really started. It doesn’t bother him.
When you play at Peach Jam and some of the other games we’ve had a chance to play in it’s not going to get to him. Sometimes he gets too excited. Honestly, if they were quiet – if he were to play in a really quiet gym – that might be the best way to get him off his game. But when you’re really on him he’s going to get 40 or 50.”
After coming out of the locker room following the game, having several phones and cameras put in front of him and seeing the line of eager teens with smartphones out trying to capture of shot of his greatness, Young took it all in stride.
“We knew we were playing in a hostile event and on another team’s home court; we knew there would be things that wouldn’t go our way,” said Young of North erasing a 13-point deficit in the win. “It happens. We had to fight through a lot of adversity and that’s what stood out to me about this win.
It means a lot to set those records, but the main thing we wanted was to get the win. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to set the record and for our team to do it as well means we made history. But at the end of the day all that matters is the win.”
It is winning that drove Young back to Norman for his senior campaign.
Each year several elite seniors transfer to the nation’s best basketball factories to play out their final year of prep eligibility. Many of those same guys end up in Springfield in mid-January at the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions.
Many believed that Young would transfer to powerhouse Montverde Academy or Findlay Prep – both of whom are in the 2017 Bass Pro T of C – but Young opted to stay put, something many Oklahomans are hopefully he chooses again come this spring.
“I decided to come back for a few reasons,” said Young. “There were some family reasons but I also felt like I did enough during the summer to solidify my chances at a few of the bigger events that I want to attend, like the McDonald’s All-American game. I also feel like I owe these guys a lot. I’ve grown up with them since second grade and I feel like I owe them a state championship, but we have a long way to go.”
Founder of the Ozark Mountain Shootout and Glendale head coach Brian McTague was torn watching the performance.
On one hand, fans got to see one of the nation’s best players in the zone. On the other hand, it came against his team.
McTague set this game up for his team months ago, accepting the challenge that comes along with playing one of the nation’s top players.
Even McTague – who had spent several months scouting Norman North – was impressed by Young’s ability. Even making the point that the comparisons to Steph Curry aren’t fair because Young is a better athlete and penetrator.
“We couldn’t find a way to stop him or slow him down a little bit,” said McTague. “I know it’s entertaining for fans but it’s not entertaining for coaches to try to stop a kid that is as talented as he is. He’s the real deal and there’s a reason that he’s one of the top players in the country. When you play against kids like that you’ve got to make things hard for them, but you also have to hope that they’re off a little bit and he wasn’t off tonight.”
While the outcome saw the Falcons set a new program record for points allowed in a single game, it still remains part of McTague’s process in getting Glendale back to the Final Four.
“Last year we played a brutal schedule and lost 10 games, but it got us to the quarterfinals and right on the brink of getting to the Final Four,” said McTague. “If you don’t play in these kinds of games and you don’t experience that kind of pressure or atmosphere and what it takes to win at that level then you’re not going to be ready for it when the time comes. We try to put our kids in that situation as many times as possible and hopefully we’ll get better from this game.”